Presidential Inauguration — January 2009

I had the incredible privilege of traveling for the 1st time to Washington DC for this year’s historic inaugural events. This was a trip of a lifetime. I knew that it would be an experience that I could take with me for the rest of my life. But I had no idea the extent of my experiences ahead.

Then President-elect Obama had dedicated Martin Luther King Jr Day as a Day of Service on January 19, 2009, the day before his inauguration. In honor of this day, thanks to our dear friend, Marcus, head of the Presidential Detail for the Secret Service who arranged our events, my mother, aunt and I attended a volunteer event at Coolidge High School. We worked with students to create letters of thanks to the troops overseas.

We then had the very distinguished honor of meeting both Michelle and Barack in person. (Can I use their first names? They made me feel as if I know them.) They came around to meet each of us personally and to thank us for our service. I will tell you this of them both: they challenged each of us always to be a part in creating the change, not just waiting for the change to happen… not just complaining about what’s wrong, but making things right. They were both so genuine.

Barack—though he would become Mr. President the next day, he was so personable, like a friend—has such a calming presence and ideally seeks cooperation over conflict in order to affect change for the greater good.

Upon meeting Michelle—and I say her name with the utmost respect to her powerful, yet engaging, feminine presence—her gaze bore through me, connecting to my soul while we spoke. She emphasized the importance of working hard in being a contributor of goodness to our world; she inspired me to be completely committed in each of my roles… as mother, wife, professional and community leader.

“On the president-elect’s national day of service, he jokes with a student at Calvin Coolidge High School, Washington, D.C. January 19, 2009”
~Photo by Doug Mills/New York Times

In the moment captured above, my mom and I were working with Jesse, the boy that Mr. Obama teased about how “GQ” he looked in his shades. He is framing him for a “photoshoot.” The top photo was featured in the book The New York Times: Obama, The Historic Journey.

The energy emanating from both Michelle and Barack Obama was infectious and exhilarating. For the first time in my lifetime, I now feel impassioned about my country and its leadership. I feel like, Wow, this is what being an American is all about! I’m empowered to make a real difference. This is really what I’m all about. Setting the bar high. Living each day of life fully. Doing little things to make a big difference.

Inauguration Day

As if meeting the Obamas wasn’t enough, it was just the beginning of an amazing week.

The next morning, January 20, 2009, we were escorted through the massive crowd, 2 million deep, to the Mall with a direct view of the Capitol. It was difficult to get a real sense of how many people were there until I saw us all on the teleprompter. Even then, it was so surreal.

It was incredible—and freezing. I have honestly never been so cold. It had been 70 degrees in Sacramento before I left. So, although I was layered and bundled up, I could not fully appreciate how cold it would actually be. The whipping wind bit my face. My lips were numb. My nose wouldn’t stop running. But although my frozen toes ached through wool socks, I couldn’t help but feel elated.

The crowd was warm and friendly. There was an air of excitement and peace. People kept reaffirming, “We’re all family today.” A local woman told us what a welcome change it was to feel the flow of positive energy, rather than the opposition of so many recent demonstrations.

To be there, among all the national and global leaders, among the people, to feel the energy reverberating between us, was truly awe-inspiring. I could feel the magnitude of his presence—the magnitude of what was about to happen. This was history.

As he took his oath of office, I felt so moved by the magnitude of his words. Upon hearing his speech, a feeling of hope resonated through the crowd.

His metaphorically outreached hands and heart spoke to the world, offering cooperation, not domination. He offered a “new way forward based on mutual interests and mutual respect. …we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

I could only be swept up by the sea of patriotism that surrounded us. It was so alive. Postitive energy swelled. The dream was finally being realized. And I felt proud… to be a part of this moment… and this country. Proud. Finally.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interests and mutual respect. …we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Barack Obama, from his Inauguration speech on January 20, 2009

Afterwards, the mass exodus was nothing I had ever experienced. We started to walk to the metro station—foolishly thinking that we could actually get to one.

Sandwiched in, tightly at times, we slowly worked our way through through the ebb and flow of the human sea, ultimately, walking to our hotel in Georgetown. Incredibly though, even as we were in this gridlock of people, there was a sense of calm.

Even with such an extent of confusion—so many people crowded into such relatively tight quarters—no arrests were made this whole day. In fact, I never saw anyone outraged, nor felt any sense of mayhem (other than one woman’s claustrophobia-driven anxiety attack). There was only positive energy flowing throughout the city that day. Everyone reached out to help each other.

The Ball

That night, we went to the ball of all balls: The Neighborhood Ball.

This was the first ball that Mr. President and Mrs. Obama attended. At this televised ball, Beyonce sang “At Last” during their first dance of the evening.

The incredible lineup of performances included Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Maroon 5, Faith Hill, Will-I-Am, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Shakira. Among the hosts were Denzel Washington, Leo DiCaprio, and Queen Latifah. It was a glamorous evening to wrap up our day’s experiences.

I feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of it all. And incredibly grateful to everyone who made it possible. This experience made me feel even more empowered—and even more ready to do my part.

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