Barack Obama has been president for less than three weeks and already he has made significant progress in different areas. He has set a deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. He has frozen White House staff salaries and is working his economic bailout plan through Congress. He has even admitted he “screwed up” on one of his cabinet nominations. It’s reassuring to know that even the president can screw up and then be able to admit it. I wish more people were like that.
Although it is still way too early for the new president to have truly made his mark on the American people, the spirit of optimism and hope present from the moment he was sworn in is very much alive today. With our economy in shambles and so many people losing their jobs, he has a difficult job. While there is a good chance that he is striving to achieve the impossible, I am still feeling swept in by the glory of his win and sense of change that he has brought.
There were 240,"000 tickets issued for the Inauguration, and my sister and I were extremely lucky to have received two of them. We arrived in Washington on the Friday before the actual ceremony and were able to attend some of the events leading up to the big day.
The first really big thing was the Inaugural Concert to welcome the new president and his family to Washington, D.C. Though I was excited to be there, I think my mother was even more so. She told me that this concert would be the Woodstock of my generation. I didn’t know what Woodstock was until I googled it, and found out that it was a music festival held in New York in 1969 that has become legendary because of the famous performances and people who were there. Everyone just wanted to be there, live in the moment and feel the sense of unity.
At the concert in Washington, I couldn’t help but become lost in the performances with one knockout musical performance after another, along with the dramatic readings by famous actors and actresses in-between. I remembered learning the words to ""This Land is Your Land"" in elementary school, but how amazing to hear Willie Nelson singing it. Whether you experienced the concert live in Washington, D.C., or saw it from home on television, you could not help but be completely enraptured with a strong surge of pride and patriotism for the great country America can be. It made me think that no matter how bad things get, no matter what state the economy is in, things can seem miraculously better with the earth-shaking performances of some of our country’s greatest artists and thousands and thousands of people chanting “YES WE CAN!”
There was one downside to the concert, and most of the five days we were in Washington. I thought that I was pretty well adjusted to the crowds and the bone-freezing cold, but it was hard. On the day of the Inaugration, we had to wake up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a bus from our hotel in Arlington, Virginia, to the Capitol area. Then we had to wait in line, starting at 4 in the morning all the way to 8. It was exhausting. Finally, after getting through security, we found a good spot to settle in, in front of the reflecting pool, and then waited for the ceremonies to begin.
I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so many people in my entire life. I had always imagined I would be claustrophobic or uncomfortable in a sea of that many people. Maybe I was just numb from the wind-chill, but I honestly felt perfectly content, despite the cold, the crowds and the fatigue. The energy was just too happy and optimistic to let a little potential frostbite get me down. I was so excited to be witnessing history: the first African-American president and the catalyst to the huge, positive change that is coming. This made it all worthwhile, even though my toes were so frozen I could not feel them for a solid 12 hours afterwards.
The next day my sister found a picture of the president and his extended family in the New York Times. It looked like the president was standing with people from all around the world — Asia, Europe, and Africa — and in fact, he was, and even better, they were all members of his family. They included his half sister from Southeast Asia and her husband, a Chinese-Canadian, as well as relatives with Muslim, Jewish and Christian roots.
Obama’s presidency means so much to the African-American community, and to everyone in this country who has fought for civil rights. But he represents something even more significant than being the first black president. This picture of his real, extended family reflects this. As the son of a man from Africa and a Caucasian woman from America, the new president is bi-racial, a true representative of our country’s melting pot. As a bi-racial citizen myself, it means a lot to me that this country can see past the color of skin to elect a bi-racial man with the middle name of Hussein as president. This gives me a sense of new opportunities that are open to me just around the corner. Maybe a woman president is next.
Of all the things President Obama stands for, possibility seems the most important. He proves that it is possible to go to school, do well, and do well in the real world. He proves that it is possible to be raised by a single mother and not be bitter and to have a happy family life of his own. He proves it is possible to bring together a mélange of fresh, new and traditional music sounds to produce a concert of unity on the Capitol Mall.
We have tough times to pull through but I feel this sense of optimism is here to stay. I am so grateful to have witnessed the Inauguration but I am also grateful just to be alive at a historic time like this.