Posted by Natalya N. Smith, Consular Officer
Looking back at the first Obama inauguration on January 20th, 2009, I remember two things — I was extremely cold and I had burning tears of pride and happiness running down my face. I am a Russian-American born in Murmansk and I am supposed to know how to survive in extreme temperatures, so a few days before the inauguration I followed friends’ advice and bought special heaters that fit into mittens and socks to help keep warm. My husband, a fellow Foreign Service Officer, had started preparations even earlier — ever since the Presidential Elections in November 2008, he would call his Florida congressional offices daily and ask for free tickets to the inauguration. His tenacity finally paid off – we were the proud holders of two tickets (out of only 280,000) to the 2009 Inauguration ceremony on the National Mall, blue section.
We left the house at seven in the morning on January 20th, 2009, after the babysitter arrived and took charge of our toddler son. The city was packed, and the air was thick with anticipation. It was like 4th of July, New Year’s, and Easter all happening together — for most of us present, there was a sense of national pride, a new beginning, and the miraculous rebirth of a nation’s spirit — like nothing I had ever experienced before. People were singing, congratulating each other, and hugging. All of the businesses downtown were closed, but a few coffee shops stayed open to give out free coffee and snacks.
Later I read that an estimated 1.8 million people were at the National Mall that day, and I am not surprised. There were long lines everywhere, and security was very strict. We had to patiently wait in line for hours in the bitter cold and get through many barriers and metal detectors before we were finally in our blue zone, jumping up and down with excitement like teenagers (or maybe it was the heaters that were burning our feet through the socks). We were close enough to the steps of the Capitol Building to see Aretha Franklin’s hat as she was singing (she is a famous soul singer who also performed at Martin Luther King’s funeral).
At noon, the swearing-in ceremony began. There were huge screens everywhere projecting the oath of office and the President’s inaugural address, taking place on the Capitol’s steps to those watching in the further corners of the National Mall or at homes around America and around the world. But even if we missed a moment, we could almost read the proceedings off the faces of our neighbors in the blue sector, or in the enthusiastic gestures of those who climbed up the trees to get a better view of the President-elect. Many of us were crying — all of us there had voted for this man to be our country’s leader, to help us turn the corner, to stand for what we believe in. And to see him up there, on the steps of the Capitol, was a personal triumph for every one of us. Isn’t that what you call democracy?
Shortly after the swearing-in, people got another chance to see the President and First Lady walk in the Inaugural Parade along Pennsylvania Avenue. The security was so strict that day in 2009 that we could not cross the National Mall to Pennsylvania Avenue and instead had to head home to tell our son about what it was like to watch history live!
My son, by the way, who did not get to join us on the National Mall for the Inauguration Day, got his private audience with the President – when President Obama came to Beijing in 2010 and exchanged a few words exclusively with my boy as captured in this photo:
Obama’s second inauguration on Monday, January 21, 2013, is expected to be smaller, drawing a crowd of only (!) 600,000 to 800,000, but I am sure it will be as grand as the one in 2009. This year, my family will be in Ukraine on inauguration day and will follow the festivities on TV. There will likely be a concert similar to the free “We Are One” inaugural concert in 2009, which took place at the Lincoln Memorial and featured Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Jon Bon Jovi, U2, Usher, and many others. At noon Washington, DC time, the swearing-in ceremony will commence, followed by the President’s inauguration address which will outline President Obama’s vision and goals for our nation for the next four years. The Inaugural Parade can be viewed along Pennsylvania Avenue at 2:30 PM on January 21st, and you don’t need tickets to enjoy it. A series of inaugural balls will take place in the nation’s capital on Monday evening, and I cannot wait to see what gowns Michelle Obama will choose to wear!
Interesting Facts about the U.S. Presidential Inauguration:
It is specified in the U.S. Constitution that a new President has to take an oath or affirmation before taking office.
It always happens on January 20th, and if it falls on a Sunday, then the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will privately administer the oath to the President-elect on Sunday and then publicly on Monday, the following day.
The Vice President takes the oath first, followed by the President-elect at roughly noon on inauguration day, which is when the new Presidential term officially begins.
The inauguration ceremony includes elements of prayer and music, as well as poetry readings.
Following the inauguration ceremony, if it’s the new President’s first term, the outgoing President and First Lady leave the Capitol to start their new life.
Immediately after swearing in, both President and Vice President will attend a luncheon organized by both houses of the U.S. Congress.
After the congressional luncheon, the President will parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol Building to the White House. Some Presidents walk the entire way, some only part of the way, depending on the weather.
Inaugural festivities last on average ten days, starting five days before and lasting for five days after inauguration day.