January 28, 2009 Edition

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Inauguration is thrilling

James Girolamo
Guest Writer

(Editor's note: James Girolamo is a senior at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is the son of Beth and Paul Girolamo and the grandson of Virginia Bland of Walnut Ridge, the late Jim Bland Jr. and of Paul and Cris Girolamo of Wyomissing, Pa.)

Last week I went to Washington, D.C. with 19 students and five teachers to attend the inauguration of President BarackObama. The students were from two classes, a political science class I had taken last year, and a Constitutional law class from this year, both taught by the same teacher, Mr. Jack McShane, who has only missed one presidential inauguration since former President Jimmy Carter's in 1977.

To avoid the masses converging on the Capital, we went down on Amtrak the Sunday before the inauguration. We were lucky to have hotel reservations at a Holiday Inn only six blocks from the White House. On Monday, we toured the city, and I especially enjoyed the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism that opened in 2006. We had dinner Monday night with several alumni from our school, one of whom is married to a speechwriter for Vice President Biden. He - the speechwriter, not Biden was there, too, and gave us a talk before dinner.

The atmosphere in Washington was one of celebration and general optimism. Pictures of Obama and his family were everywhere, and every street corner had a vendor selling Obama merchandise: shirts, hats, posters and pins. I even saw a pair of "Barackulars:" Obama binoculars.

By the time the big day arrived, the number of tourists had reached an amazing level. It was really astounding to see so many happy people marching through the streets of the Capital toward the Mall, but at the same time it made moving through the streets very tedious and difficult. Of the 24 people I left the hotel with, I ended up arriving at the inauguration with only three, as the huge crowds had separated me from the other 21. (It was fine; we all met up again at the hotel.)

By the time we got to the Mall around 11 a.m., it was full - the guards would not let anyone else in - so we found a Jumbotron (one of 12 huge TV screens set up in and around the Mall) near the Washington Monument to watch the ceremony. We stood there for a couple of hours in the cold, shoulder to shoulder, and even though we couldn't see the actual ceremony, it still felt significant to be there.

Despite the enormous crowds and the bitter cold, the inauguration was a resounding success. I thought Obama's speech was very powerful and set a clear path for the future. It urged Americans to put aside political differences in order to overcome major problems, a message that both Democrats and Republicans should take to heart. Many people in the crowd were crying by the end of the speech, and the time I had spent volunteering in the Obama campaign felt like it had paid off.

Although returning to the hotel was even more diffi cult than it had been getting to the inauguration, I didn't care. My spirits were high, as they remain to this day. I'm cautiously optimistic about the new administration, and I hope that the country can band together in these tough times, regardless of political leanings.

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