Though the events that shaped my return-to-school itinerary were not the best, I can’t have imagined celebrating Barack Obama’s inauguration in a better way. I divided the last few weeks of Obamania between Washington and Ithaca.
I spent the weeks leading up to the inauguration doing all of the usual Washingtonian kid things: long strolls on the Mall, surveying my favorite monuments, trying to see if anything felt different. I had the unbelievable opportunity to watch the certification of the election in the front row of the House of Representatives. By law, a joint committee of Congress must meet to examine the ballots from each state to certify that they are “regular in form and authentic.” This process is overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration, home of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and my memories of the sweetest summer internship in Washington. What had felt like a dream come true was finally made real as I sat on the House floor, watching the results of the historic election being written into the Congressional record. Knowing that those ballots and the journal of the House were on their way down Constitution Avenue to be sealed forever in the National Archives was the most literal “written in the history books” that I had felt this entire election season. Even better was watching our now former! Vice President presiding over the process.
After the unbelievable experience of watching this unfold in Congress, I thought I had seen enough of the inauguration. Just as I was weighing the costs and benefits of heading back to school as scheduled or staying for some of the festivities, the economic crisis literally hit home, and I needed a few more days in the Washington area. Everything worked out beautifully, but I needed a few more days to put my Labor Law training to use.
With steady progress made on the obnoxious-undergrad-harassing-various-lawyers front, I set out at dawn on Sunday morning to watch the We Are One concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The list of stars who appeared was staggering, and my hero rocked the house not once but twice, bringing tears to my eyes both times. Singing “This Land is Your Land” along with the crowd, Bruce, and eighty-nine-year-old Pete Seeger was nothing but surreal.
I was quickly overwhelmed by the historical coincidences: MLK’s birthday, the Lincoln bicentennial, the Americans who stood in my place for the I Have a Dream speech. When President Obama proudly noted that he would not be here if it weren’t for Lincoln, the historic totality of the moment came crashing down, because I knew I wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for Lincoln, either. A half-hispanic girl from a border state probably wouldn’t have a shot in this world if the 1860s had gone the wrong way. Cornell wouldn’t be here, either, if he hadn’t signed the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. I had to put down my “THANKS, BRUCE” sign and take a few deep breaths before I could concentrate again on the amazing lineup.
With amazing memories, I watched the inauguration itself at my second home at Cornell. Reuniting with my friends and crowding into Ives 115 to witness today’s events, I realized that experiencing the inauguration in just Washington or just Ithaca wouldn’t have been complete. Both halves of my life came together beautifully for this amazing American celebration, and this feels like the start of a great semester and an even better eight years.