President Barack Obama addressed the nation last night following his first month in office. When he was sworn into office last month, Dawn Dewald, a fourth-year advertising and public relations major, was on hand in the nation’s capital, along with classmates Philipp Batta, an applied arts and sciences student, and Jeff Porter, a photojournalism major. Following is Dawn’s account of the day, along with photos by Philipp and Jeff.
When I turned over on the couch at 3:30 a.m., I never anticipated how my hands would shrivel in the cold air or that my feet would be like two wooden clubs inside my boots. My friends and I stuffed our coat pockets with provisional granola bars and bagels. We knew the event would last all day, but we were not prepared for how exhausted we would feel after standing and walking for 12 hours.
At 4:30 a.m., we received text messages informing us of parking garages filling up at the metro stations. The traffic was nothing compared to our own racing thoughts. Once downtown, the gridlocked streets forced us to strategize where we wanted to go—either to the Mall or the parade route. My group split up. Each left to navigate the terrain of mazes and barricades on our own.
I slipped into a stream of people pouring into an underground tunnel. After 40 minutes of this nomadic walking, I saw a sign that read, “This way to the National Mall.” (My confidence was restored.) Volunteers were welcoming guests to the inauguration. When I reached the Mall, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and relief.
What I saw before me were hundreds of people standing and looking in one direction. It was not yet densely packed, but folks were still milling and quickly filling in. The edge was invisible except for glimpses of fencing and unavoidable rows of public latrines. If you were desperately cold, they offered a meager shelter.
The view to be had from the trees was undoubtedly spectacular. For those on the ground, jumbo screens and speakers dotted the Mall from the seating at the Capitol to the Washington Monument. The sea of people became a sea of waving flags and digital cameras. I can safely estimate that I was the passerby in at least 200 photographs.
The choir could not compete with the roar of a million citizens, but the warm piano, violin and cello offered repose. The gravity of this administrative transition had a sobering soundtrack. Booing was the last response I can remember to the mention of George Bush by our president. Hands holding cameras rose up from the crowd to quietly photograph Obama’s displayed picture from the screens. Even I reached up hoping to capture a fraction of his physical presence that day.
As crowds melted to the perimeter of the Mall, a new landscape emerged. As far as I could see, there was trash. Blankets, scarves, paper cups and cardboard blew in the dust over the lawn and like sea foam it would repeat rising and falling. It was a desolate scene left by a hopeful mass.
Hours later, I debated whether it was the wind or the intermittent sun that burned my cheeks. It was nothing but a small distraction from the flood of memories made that day.
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