Friday, January 30, 2009
Carlisleans lead the way to inauguration
Ed. note: Readers wrote in to tell the Mosquito of their Inaugural experiences.
Eighth-grader Roxane Sayde reports: Fifteen thousand students scattered across Washington D.C., all of them with huge expectations. They came together for talks and conferences, but ultimately for the Inauguration of our 44th president. Among those 15,000 were five 8th-
grade girls from Carlisle middle school, Anna Kolstad, Em Durlacher, Jasmine Khayami, Alissa Merz and myself.
The 15,000 students, or “scholars” as they called us, went to the Inauguration as part of the Congressional Youth Leadership Conference program. The kids came from across the nation and were nominated by their teachers who had recognized them for outstanding leadership qualities. My three roommates came from Texas, California, and Pennsylvania.
The conference speakers were impressive. The first evening we listened to Erik Weihenmayer, the first and only blind man ever to climb Mt. Everest. He explained how he approached daunting and overwhelming tasks by forming a vision and setting goals. The next day we listened to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was asked a great question about what his advice would be for Hillary, and he answered that you have to be aware of “when to follow and when to lead.” He said it was important for a leader to understand that sometimes you need to step back. Anna noticed that both Weihenmayer and Powell described strangely similar qualities and priorities of a leader. The most intense event was when we listened to former Vice President Al Gore. There were consistent flashes even though we were told to turn them off on our cameras. Gore told us: “Learn, yes. Observe, yes. But then participate.”
We got an early start the day of the Inauguration, but by the time we got to the Mall, it was packed. By 9 a.m. our small group of 17 had finally settled in. I have never been in such a large and overwhelming crowd in my life. I had expected impatience, irritation, and aggravation among the mob of people, but instead I saw tolerance, kindness, and exhilaration. There were so many people there standing together that it was impossible to tell quite how many there were. My Dad later told me that there were around 2,000,000 people.
I heard stories about what the Inauguration meant to others. I listened to the swearing in and to the speeches. I cheered and clapped with the crowd. Alissa later said that she had met some people at the Inauguration who had actually heard Martin Luther King, Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. She told me that to be here with these people was beyond inspirational.
Yes, we did!
Russell Street resident Valerie Holt writes, “Yes, we did! My daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson, and I spent Tuesday, January 20, 2009 in the company of millions of other people celebrating the feeling of hope, as we shared Barack Obama’a swearing-in ceremony. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
It was cold, but sunny, and as people, bundled up in fur and fleece, settled into their places and chatted about what was about to happen, friendships were starting to grow. The feeling was truly electric and every so often, a growing chant of “O-ba-MA, O-ba-MA” spread through the throngs of people, like “the wave,” and joining in just heightened the communal feeling of joy.
Getting there was not easy. Radio commentators in the D.C. area had been warning for several days: “Be sure to take patience with you if you are coming into D.C. for the Inauguration.” Well, people did that and more so. Early on, I became aware of a new feeling of “community” all around. Even on a slowly crawling subway car, crowded to its very limits, the talk was friendly and helpful. You couldn’t have fit a sheet of paper between the parkas and coats and it felt pretty much like a sauna after about a half hour, but there seemed to be no way to dampen anyone’s spirits.
When we finally left the train, at our stop, the cool air felt good, at least for a little while. Then, there were lines and check-points and we had to trust that we were going in the right direction.
So, there we were, waiting for the moment of Change. We were not disappointed. After Aretha’s amazing musical blessing, Mr. Biden became the Vice President. More lovely music, from the hands and hearts of Itzak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma, and then the big moment came while the whole crowd held its breath, Mr. Obama became our 44th President. Following a huge sigh, the whole Mall exploded in applause and cheers and waving flags.
Several hours later, we returned to the Metro for the ride back out of D.C. The crowds had subsided, but once on the train, the crush was no less. On our car, there was a large and vocal woman with an Obama tattoo on her cheek, who cheerfully took on the task of making sure that people could get on, asking folks to push on back to make space. She also quelled the fears of people worrying about whether they would be able to get off at their stops and made sure that they did. She embodied the spirit of cooperation that I am hopeful will become the way of life in these United States.”
Some notes from “steerage”
Town Adminstrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett took the Acela to Washington on Sunday with her son to witness the presidential inauguration. “It was the happiest train,” she said. “.I stood in ‘steerage,’ [the non-ticket area],” she continued, “and was glad to be there. I was struck by the richness and diversity of the American people, who we are, all races and ages of people to the right and left of me. People were caring and gentle; the leitmotif of the day was kindness. People gave way so shorter people or children could stand in front of them and see. I was impressed by how many senior citizens came, some in wheelchairs.
“There was a British man walking by who commented that he thought that everyone was so cheerful ‘today,’ but that everything would change ‘tomorrow.’ I told him, ‘You know, the American people are relentlessly cheerful and optimistic.’ I believe that, and if there was one prevailing emotion down there in steerage that day, it was hope.
“This is a memory I will treasure all my life. It made me very proud to be an American.”
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito