My Semester In D.C. – Attending The 45th Presidential Inauguration

January 24, 2017

By Melissa Rohman

By the time you read this column, Donald J. Trump will have already been the 45th President of the United States for four days. Our country’s new political and economic agenda of “putting America first” will have now been implemented into action for 96 hours.  For some, this agenda as well as the inauguration alone has called for major celebration.  For others, it has called for major protest and action.   

As a 21-year-old girl from the suburbs of Chicago, never did I imagine that I would have the opportunity to attend a Presidential inauguration in my lifetime. However, because I’m spending my last semester of undergrad interning in Washington D.C., I took it upon myself to attend and observe the 45th Presidential Inauguration. No matter who I voted for, I knew if I didn’t attend it that I and my high sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn would highly regret it.  

Leaving for the Metro (the subway) at 8:30 a.m. to get to the National Mall, I knew I was in for a day I would never forget, for better or worse.  I knew that I would see and hear things that I have only ever seen and heard on T.V. But I was ready to see, hear, and absorb as much as I could.  

Getting onto the train, I saw a sea of red. So much red. You could easily tell who was not attending the inauguration or not in support of the new President by the lack of their red and Americana attire. Everywhere I looked were the notorious red caps, American flag accessories and flags themselves, and people who had traveled from across the country and the world to attend the days festivities. People of all ages were on the train, however age was the only diverse thing about the group of people I saw on the train heading to the inauguration as well as at the actual inauguration itself.

The inauguration took up the entire National Mall, spanning from the Capitol Building past the Washington Monument. In order to enter the gated off premises, attendees had to make their way through specific checkpoints located around the Mall heavily organized by the United States Army, inauguration volunteers, and security personnel. Three hours later and bags checked, I was in the National Mall and officially an attendee of the 45th Presidential inauguration. By the time I had got there, many people were camped out and ready to go, rain ponchos in hand as it was expected to rain the moment Donald Trump took oath. Jumbotrons allowed attendees too far away from the Capitol building to see and hear the entire inauguration and at noon, the swearing in ceremony began. After three prayers, remarks, and a few songs sung by the Missouri State Chorale and the Mormon Tabernacle choir, it was time to officially swear in Vice-President elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump.  Cheers erupted throughout the crowd as the new Vice President and President took oath. However, the cheering sea of red and Donald Trumps post-oath remarks were not what I found the most interesting that day.

For one, the crowd seemed large when immersed in it. However according to the New York Times, it was estimated that 250,00 people attended the inauguration, compared to 1.8 million in 2009 for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Yet more importantly, it was the strong sense of divide and opposites that took me aback from attending this inauguration.  The National Mall was a set for all to come together during the inauguration physically, however emotionally, politically, and mentally I have never seen so many opposites all in one place. So much happiness and sadness; so much celebration and peaceful as well as destructive protest; so much solidarity and hateful speech (the hateful speech I heard only from the Trump supporters who did not understand why so many anti-Trump protests were occurring). Whether we may like to acknowledge it or not, this inauguration was an example of democracy that I have never in my life seen in so much at first hand and in such a raw light. It was beautiful, it was scary, it was empowering, and it was frustrating all at once to see and hear.

I had to keep reminding myself that no matter whom I voted for in this election, that attending this inauguration would be a learning experience I will use to propel myself forward into the world. At the end of the day, I am happy I went to observe. It was emotionally and physically draining for me, a lot of walking and a lot of new sights and sounds.  I have been able to breathe in the new state of our country and all I can say is this: we have a lot of work to do…not so much economically, but socially and politically.  

In this time, we must now urge ourselves to take on the responsibility of communicating and listening to one another, no matter the color, political affiliation, religion, gender, race, or economic and social status. Because the apparent divide that our country is in will only grow stronger. As Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  Knowledge is power. Faith is power. Love is power. Truth is power. And today has taught me that we are all, no matter how we stand politically, are capable of doing so if we remember that we are all human.