Inaugural Memories

Inaugural Memories
warthmore was well-represented in Washington, D.C., during Barack Obama's inauguration weekend - from the Mall to right onstage. Sharing their thoughts here are Marissa Davis '08, Maurice Eldridge '61, Hahna Kane '09, Anne Kolker '08, Jessica Langston '08, Dominic Lowell '08, Martha Marrazza '09, Victor Navasky '54, Kevin Quigley '74, and Keith Reeves '88.

Find more accounts from current students in the Daily Gazette. If you would like to share your inaugural memories, please let us know.


Marissa Davis '08, third from right, performed with Bruce Springsteen at the We Are One concert.

As many others stood out in the cold for hours, awaiting the opportunity to stand on the National Mall for the We Are One concert, I was backstage preparing for my debut with Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen and Beyoncé. I had been selected to sing with a 125-voice adult choir assembled specifically for the event. In a nutshell, it was nothing short of amazing!

I started walking up the stairs to get on stage and it was not the thrill of singing with The Boss and Beyoncé that got me nervous. Rather, it was the realization that for about two minutes and 30 seconds, I was truly going to be a part of history.

I found my spot on stage, heard the stage manager say "Stand by," and once the moving wall revealed the choir, I looked ahead, in awe of the sea of people I saw before me - not to mention that the Obama and Biden families were literally right in front of me jamming to our song! I couldn't help but think that in that moment, we were truly One People. Nothing can ever replace that brief moment.

Marissa Davis '08
Paralegal, Relman & Dane PLLC
Surprisingly, a high point of emotion for me on the occasion of the Obama inauguration occurred long before we reached the Mall and our seats along the parade route. On the metro train trip from the Virginia suburbs into D.C., crowded together in unaccustomed and happy intimacy, a couple from Herndon and I fell into conversation and I told them a story much on my mind lately.

When I was three years old, my mother took my older brother and me on our first train trip from D.C. to visit our grandparents in Mississippi. We couldn't have been more excited until, when our train crossed the Potomac River, it stopped and we and our mother were herded into a crowded, segregated coach. Tears on her cheeks were the only answer she could give to our pained confusion.

As I told the story, I was suddenly struck to shed new, fresher tears by the realization that I was at last crossing back over the Potomac in a deeply healing homecoming. For my mother: "Free at last!"

Maurice Eldridge '61
Vice President for College and Community Relations

Just a glimpse of some of the crowds on the Mall during the inauguration. (photo by Reid Wilkening '10)

Leaving the hotel at midnight to arrive at the Capitol by 1 a.m., I thought my friends and I would be the only ones there, or at least one of the few. To my surprise, hundreds of people were already scattered about. Some even surrounded themselves with cardboard boxes like forts to block the bitterly cold winds. Strangers, families, and friends were resting upon each other, huddling to stay warm as they awaited the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama. Everyone was from everywhere and people were of all ages, from infants to the elderly. It was amazing to see how this one event was uniting the world.

Upon sunrise, the audience went from hundreds of participants to millions. The event hadn't even started when the chanting and cheering began. What I'll remember most is the crowd's euphoria once Obama was seen heading down the halls of the Capitol. Once Biden completed his oath, the crowd knew Obama was next. In that moment, I felt like I was in an ocean of ecstasy. It was contagious. We couldn't help but celebrate, whether it was by cheering at the top of our lungs, jumping up and down with joy, or crying. Our emotions took us over. We knew that this was actually happening. We knew that we were regaining our American dream and the dreams of our ancestors. We felt a sense of justice. As Obama recited the oath, there was this beautiful silence. Can you imagine the silence of 2 million people? The tranquility was amazing. I am grateful to have the opportunity to tell my children of the day the world stood still.

Standing outside for 12 hours in the bitter cold, with no food and beverages (they were all frozen solid), to witness his inauguration and to hear his inaugural address was definitely one of the best moments of my life. Some have called me crazy for doing so (I do at times myself), but I can say I was there, just like those who have told me their stories of marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hahna Kane '09
Engineering major, computer science minor

Anne Kolker '08 after she made it through the "purple gate of doom."

Having worked for President Obama (still getting used to saying that!) for more than two years, the inaugural weekend's events were truly magical on a personal, national, and global level. Whether it was jumping to "Shout!" performed by Garth Brooks at the We Are One concert with thousands of joyous strangers, or wondering whether my life was worth Barack Obama's first inaugural address as the crush of people near the Capitol gates almost overwhelmed me, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. There was a sense everywhere of excited expectation, and of real hope, and you can't take that away from the thousands like me who really believe in our new President and his message.

Reid Wilkening '10 and I were lucky enough to have tickets to the gated areas near the Capitol for the swearing-in (by the "purple gate of doom" as Washingtonians are now calling it), as well as tickets to the Obama for America Staff ball on Wednesday night. The ball featured performances by Arcade Fire and Jay-Z, as well as appearances by David Plouffe, the Vice President, Mrs. Biden, and the President and First Lady. It was truly a beautiful and happily surprising evening and a fitting end to the campaign that captured my heart and soul, as well as inspired 6.5 million new campaign volunteers to take part in their communities.

And now, after the chants of "Fired up, ready to go!" and "Yes we can!" have faded, I am comforted by what are now the seven most beautiful words in the English language: The President of the United States, Barack Obama. And, of course, looking forward to Sasha Obama's presidential run in 2050.


Anne and Jessica Langston '08 at the last of the inaugural balls. 

I'm a proud D.C. resident nowadays and feel like I absolutely picked the right time to come to the city. But for me, it was actually the night AFTER the inauguration that was the best. It started off slowly enough, getting back to work and trying to remember what it was I was supposed to be working on anyway. But that night I went with Anne Kolker '08 to the Staff Ball.

As soon as we saw that we had to go through stringent security and noticed the secret service officers every 20 feet, we knew that someone big was going to show up. Eventually Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were introduced and gave a speech to the crowd. David Plouffe talked, too, which seemed very fitting for a room full of campaign workers.

But we were still surprised when the final speaker came out on stage: President Barack Obama with his wife, Michelle. Everyone of course went wild as he gave a speech of thanks, making sure to include in it that he "loved us back" before heading back home (to the White House, that is) for some probably much-needed sleep. Topping the night was a great performance by Jay-Z, as the attendees young and old, in formal wear and jeans, joined together to "brush (their) shoulders off."

We all know that things are tough right now, and going to get worse before they get better. But I couldn't have asked for anything more than just a couple of days of unadulterated celebration before the real work begins.


Dominic Lowell '08 puts the finishing touches on his Obama cake.

First, I went to the concert on the mall on Sunday afternoon. While I'm not a particularly mushy person, I absolutely melted when Beyonce took the stage and sang "America the Beautfiul."

Then housemates and I decided to throw a huge inauguration party on Sunday night for everyone we knew would be in town. So after the concert, I rushed home to start baking my Obama cake. While I don't think I got the frosting quite right, I do think that everyone enjoyed snacking on a little 'hope' and 'change' while dancing to some tunes in that awkward way that only Swatties can do.

I had a ticket to get into the purple section, and I wasn't going to miss it for the world. It didn't hurt that I was going with my first year roommate and one of my best friends, Adam Dalva '08, who somehow managed to win the lottery for his congressional district. Luckily, we found a friend of ours, Ben Bradlow '08, about half a mile back from the entrance gate. We shamelessly joined him in line.

And then the fun began. We got there at 6:30 a.m. and finally got past security at 11:45. Yes, that's 15 minutes before Obama's oath of office. We were kind of freaking out. But it was kind of fun, too, because everyone around us was in the same boat. We practically ran to get a spot on the lawn and got a great place right in front of the Capitol. Being that close was just awe-inspiring. I mean, we could see Obama taking the oath of office. He may have been a little small over yonder in the distance, but we could still see him. I mean, Obama! I mean, the new president. I mean, OMG!

I was definitely so overjoyed (and probably sleep-deprived) that I couldn't chant "Yes, we can" with the rest of the Mall because I was speechless and a little preoccupied with my own personal waterworks. In that moment, amidst all my crying (and hugging of Adam), I was sold on hope.

Dominic Lowell '08
Research Assistant, Democracy Alliance, and
Fellow, Center for Progressive Leadership

Martha Marrazza '08 watched the inauguration's big moments from the catbird seat of the ABC News control room at the Newseum.

Those not among the estimated 2 million people who made the trek to Washington, D.C., for Obama's inauguration were able to follow the entire day's events on television, tuning into the major networks for coverage of the historic day. I got to watch ABC's coverage of Obama's inauguration, too, but thanks to a connection from a former internship, I was watching live from the ABC News control room instead of from my couch.

As a runner for ABC News during inauguration weekend, I had the opportunity to assist journalists, producers, directors, writers, and cameramen as they worked at a feverish pace to pull together their inauguration special. I stood in for famous personalities during microphone and lighting rehearsals, I assembled press credentials for all of our guests, and I was in charge of greeting and shuttling many of the commentators that we booked for our broadcast. Most importantly, I was able to observe the production of history firsthand.

Tensions were high at times, but good journalism was being made. The camaraderie that arises from working in a high pressure situation in such close quarters is enveloping. We all froze, eyes glued to the feeds pouring into the control room, as Obama made his first speech as president. There was a collective gasp and many tears when we first heard about Senator Kennedy's seizure during the post-inauguration luncheon. If one of the anchors made a gaffe on air, we groaned and scrambled to remedy the slip up.

Although I wasn't one of the millions of people huddled outside, laden with hand-warmers, hats, scarves and gloves, my inauguration experience was still incredibly memorable and intense. While many inauguration goers purchased newspapers, hats, flags or other souvenirs to remember the day, all I need to hold onto is my press pass.

Martha Marrazza '09
Honors religion major, political science minor
The year was 1953. I was a junior at Swarthmore College, and my friend Anne Mott and I decided to hitch down to Washington in time for Dwight D. Eisenhower's inauguration.

It was not that we liked Ike, or his campaign slogan ("It's time for a change"!). Au contraire. We had a theory and a plan. Our theory was that some of our favorite Democratic Senators might be skipping the inaugural ceremonies, and our plan was while Ike was giving his boring inaugural address, to visit the Senate office building and see what Democratic Senators we could see. We were particularly interested in Senator Paul Douglas, the Illinois crusader for civil rights, because his daughter Jean was a Swarthmore sophomore, and we thought that might give us a leg up when we descended on his office without an appointment.

And, believe it or not, that is exactly what happened. The Senate office building seemed quiet and mostly empty (there was no security at the street entrance in those those innocent days); and when we presented ourselves to the receptionist in Douglas's outer office, shamelessly dropping his daughter Jean's name, in a matter of minutes we were ushered into the inner sanctum. more

Victor Navasky '54
Publisher Emeritus of The Nation  
After being outside all day in the bone-chilling and bitter cold, the new President's enthusiastic, smiling response to the Peace Corps community and the flags of the 139 countries where it has been (including the flags of Indonesia and Kenya, where he has family), warmed the hearts and brightened the spirits of all of us privileged to march on this historic day representing the 200,000 who have served in the Peace Corps. I feel very fortunate to have been joined in the parade by Senator Harris Wofford, one of the founders of the Peace Corps and an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy.
Kevin F. F. Quigley '74
President, National Peace Corps Association

Keith Reeves '88 trekked to Washington for the inauguration.

The dust on our shoes told only part of my Inauguration Day story. My family and I braved both the enormous crowds and the elements to witness the swearing-in of the nation's first African-American president. Suffice it to say, it was a most extraordinary day: Americans of all races, hues, ages, political affiliations, and physical abilities converged on the Mall to bear witness to what I, myself, believed was unimaginable in my lifetime.

But as we saw President-elect Obama place his left hand on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln some 148 years before and raise his right hand to take the presidential oath, I thought back to a conversation I had with my daughter many, many months ago. "Dad, my friends and I were talking about how great it would be for the country to have an African-American president," she said. And she added, almost matter-of-factly: "a woman president, and a president who was Jewish or Muslim."

And as a tear rolled down my left cheek, I whispered a silent prayer that I would be alive to witness the other "breakthroughs" my daughter and her friends spoke of.

Keith Reeves '88
Associate Professor of Political Science
For me, the inauguration was a homecoming. At the beginning of the Iraq war, I moved to Paris where I sadly watched the Europeans' admiration and envy of my country recede. They grew angry and frustrated at our recklessness and arrogance. We were destroying the comforting symbol - the beacon - that America represented throughout the world, yet they still yearned to believe in it, and so did I.

For the past 18 months, I studied in England and pursued physics research in Switzerland. In that time, I came to feel like an exile from my country and began to fear that I would never return to America as I remembered it. But I doubted too soon! Obama's election did not erase our mistakes, but it showed the world that we can meet the future responsibly, that we are trailblazers. Once again, I felt like an emissary instead of an exile. When I left Geneva to work in Washington, I was proud - elated! - to return home.

The day before the inauguration, a friend, a retired ambassador who rents me a studio, came to my door grinning. "I've got two tickets. Do you want to go?" Of course I did! So at nine the next morning we set out, paddling through the tumultuous streams of humanity to the north side of the Capitol. As Obama took his oath and pledged to "restore science to its rightful place," we stood again at the brink of history. Facing forward.

Jamie Saxon '10
Intern, House Committee on Science and Technology