For an event steeped in American tradition, Tuesday’s inauguration crackled with new energy.
“The people, they were just so excited. There was such high energy,” said Janet Myette, a resident of Glens Falls.
President Barack Obama was sworn in using Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and he reminded Americans of their shared history of overcoming hardship by quoting words that George Washington ordered read to his troops.
Myette and her husband, David Myette, were two of about 15 Capital Region residents who won admission tickets to the inauguration through a lottery conducted by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Janet said a few months ago she had no idea she would be traveling to Washington to witness Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States.
“It was an amazing thing to see,” she said. “His whole speech inspired me. He definitely is in for change, and I really support how he wants to help out with health care and education. It’s not going to happen overnight. It will be a long process. But with all the support he has, I think he can get us there.”
‘The final link’
Many other Capital Region residents traveled to see the first black man sworn in as president in American history, even as over a million people thronged the city and tickets for the event were hard to come by.
Albany City Councilman Corey Ellis, who was the chairman of Albany for Obama during the campaign, rode down with a group of nine Obama volunteers for the historic day.
“We were early supporters of Sen. Obama,” Ellis said. “We felt it was a rite of passage for us to come down for the final link in this long race to celebrate this swearing-in ceremony.”
Many speakers at the inauguration and the festivities before it invoked Obama’s role as one of the last links in the long journey of the American civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others.
Ellis said he supported Obama during the Democratic Party presidential primary, even though New York had a home-state candidate in the race — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. He said he was inspired by Obama’s work as a community organizer and by his message of change.
Ellis, who is black, said Obama’s inauguration will forever change the way black people view life in America.
“I always believed there would be an African-American president before I died. My mother’s generation, my grandfather’s generation? I feel happier for them because they never thought they’d see it,” Ellis said. “That makes me feel proud. Also, a number of [black] young people, when I would talk to them, would tell me they could be anything they wanted in the United States, except president. They can no longer say that.”
Tonko likes message
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said it was an emotional moment to sit with other members of Congress on the same platform as President Obama.
“Being able to share the stage with this new administration was just a tremendously enjoyable experience,” Tonko said.
During his speech, Obama invoked some of the same themes Tonko had argued for during his time as a state assemblyman and president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, including a desire to reduce American dependence on foreign sources of oil.
“It was welcome news to my ears. I embrace the message wholeheartedly. It’s time for us to think outside the barrel and to encourage the thinking that energy efficiency is our fuel of choice,” Tonko said.
Obama at times also spoke starkly of the challenges that lay ahead and the need for every American to help the country lift itself up and dust itself off and to put aside partisan politics, which he characterized as childishness the United States can no longer afford.
Some of the youngest Capital Region residents in attendance at the inauguration were among the most inspired by it. Johnstown High School junior Victoria Maxian traveled to the inauguration as a member of People to People Student Ambassadors, a group founded by President Dwight Eisenhower.
“When he was talking about how we all need to step up and what has made the country so great, I thought that was really motivating and meaningful,” she said.
Maxian watched most of Obama’s speech on television screens because she was too far away to see it herself, but she said she didn’t need to see the president to understand the effect the moment had on those around her.
“It was amazing to see the excitement. You could feel it in the crowd. Everyone was together. It was almost overwhelming,” she said.
Scotia’s Joe Gallagher and his daughter Elizabeth, an eighth-grader at Scotia-Glenville Middle School, arrived in Washington on Saturday afternoon for the inauguration and stayed with Gallagher’s 21-year-old daughter, Jennifer, a junior at American University. Jennifer had visited Washington in 1997 with her father for Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, and while it was that experience that helped her decide to go to school in D.C. and major in international relations, she said Tuesday’s affair was even more amazing.
“In ’97 when I was in fourth grade, we made our plans to go to the inaugural just a few weeks before,” said Jennifer Gallagher, who now lives in Chevy Chase, Md. “This year I had friends calling me and asking me if they could stay with me way back on Nov. 4. It’s been incredible ever since classes started again last Monday. The energy level on campus and throughout the city has been unbelievable, and [Tuesday] it was just amazing.”
“The whole weekend was great, and the spirit of the crowd and the diversity and the mixing of that diversity [Tuesday] was unbelievable,” said Joe Gallagher, who works at the Northeast Parent and Child Society. “When we came down in ’97, we just got our tickets and never had to stand in line. [Monday] we had to stand in line for an hour and a half to pick up our tickets, and [Tuesday] we got on the subway at 6:15, got off around 8 a.m. and then didn’t get to our standing area until quarter of 11. It was a sea of people, a zoo, but it was very orderly. It was the greatest crowd control I’ve ever seen.”
It was all a new experience for 13-year-old Elizabeth, who’s been an Obama fan since he decided to run for president in 2006.
“Just being out on the mall with everyone and everybody being so friendly was just amazing,” said Elizabeth Gallagher. “Nobody had a bad attitude and we got to know the people standing next to us. They were from South Carolina and Florida and all over. I can’t believe what a wonderful experience it was.”
The Gallaghers spent Sunday on the other side of the mall at the Lincoln Memorial concert.
“I want to say that Sunday was just as exciting as [Tuesday],” said Jennifer Gallagher. “We got there at 9 in the morning for a 2:30 start and the mall was already crowded with people milling about. But the inauguration was really special. It was a great moment to see the first black president sworn in, but to kids my sister’s age and some even mine, it’s not that extraordinary. It’s a generational thing. It was cool for us kids to see it happen, but for the older generation it was something they thought they’d never see.”