Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A very different inauguration

The last change of administration I was on the Mall in Washington, DC, watching Bush get sworn in first-hand. The weather was miserable--freezing rain, icy cold. I had just moved to Washington a couple weeks earlier from Northern California, after having completed graduate school at Stanford. It was a new era in Washington and in my life. I was in a brand new city; I had just started a new job with the government, and George Bush was now our president. Looking back at that day and the sense of excitement I felt about the future, nothing could have prepared me for what happened later that year, 9/11 and the subsequent eight years.

This inauguration day I watched the proceedings of the sunny, brisk day in Washington via big-screen TV, surrounded by my students in a hall at my alma mater, Principia College, where I now teach. It was a similar feeling of a new beginning but one grounded in a much more fervent hope, a deeper understanding of what is at stake, and a sense of my own role to play.

In class directly after President Obama's speech, my students brought up their awe and pride in our country and in our new President. They remarked on Obama's reaching out to others in a spirit of friendship, combined with his realistic acknowledgement of our own need for security--without "sacrificing our ideals". The students mentioned Obama's comfort with the old and the new--the timeless principles of truth espoused by our founding principles, our religious faiths--and his commensurate embracing of the new, the future, and of progress.

To me, Obama is the anti-fundamentalist, the bridger of gaps, the appreciator of both sides, the fearless moderate. I think our founding fathers would be smiling down on us today as we pledge as a nation to live up to their ideals of equality, justice, liberty, and freedom for all.

I'm sure many ages have hoped and aspired for the realization o these ideals. I know that eight years ago on the Mall I wished for these same things. This time it's just that there are fewer storms and less freezing rain to cloud the path. It's a clear day in Washington, after all.

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