Witnesses to history

January 26, 2009

Gathered at places around the globe to witness the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, McDaniel students, faculty and staff laid claim to enduring memories.

While many congregated on The Mall in Washington, D.C., to experience the moment, others flocked to televisions or the Internet for their glimpses of the day’s events. On campus, many brought their lunches with them as a crowd assembled at Decker Center Forum to watch Obama’s swearing-in ceremony as it was projected onto a large screen.

Still others toiled on the front lines of history in roles ranging from marching in the Inaugural Parade to performing during one of many Inaugural balls that stretched well into the evening.

Sophomore Colin Miller, an award-winning photographer who was hired to capture scenes of the inauguration for a publication, said having to start his day in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning and then endure subfreezing temperatures to get his shots were worth it.

“I showed up at the Metro before 4 a.m. and the line wrapped around the Metro garage twice already. I fought crowds everywhere I went in freezing cold weather. I slept for 30 minutes in a cardboard box on the Mall. And I saw people get hypothermia and frostbite,” Miller said. “But I saw Obama become the first black president. And, more importantly, I saw history unfold before my eyes. I could not have been more proud of my country at that moment.”

For 1st Lt. Michelle Levesque ’05, a U.S. Army reservist, being activated a year ago to serve on the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee was the chance to serve her country in a meaningful way.

As the Ceremonial Information Center watch officer, Levesque’s assignment on Inauguration Day was to ensure that all events connected to the parade occurred as painstakingly planned in the months leading up to the day.

“I felt more proud than anything else to be part of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee,” Levesque said. “We are a rare breed around here, and I think we all know how lucky we were to be able to be in the mix of it all, no matter what our part.”

“The people I have met here are phenomenal,” she said. “You grow as a person through an experience like this.”

For Aaron Christman ’05, who marched in the Inaugural Parade as part of the Peace Corps Community, it was the chance to proudly represent the nearly 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers who have served since the agency was formed almost 50 years ago. Christman marched in the parade with his wife, Jenny. The couple served in Anosibe An’Ala, Madagascar, as environment volunteers from 2006 to 2008.

For Eric Byrd, who teaches in the Department of Music, having his band, the Eric Byrd Trio, perform during the Purple Inaugural Ball and watching the swearing-in ceremony from a D.C. hotel was an emotional experience – one he wishes his father, William J. Byrd, had been able to share with him.

Byrd recalls that before his father died last summer, his father, who was a native of Birmingham, Ala., said that if Obama won the presidential election, it would be the greatest event in his lifetime.

“I've never felt more proud to be an American, more inspired to serve in government or social issues, more thankful to support this particular candidate for what he represents for kids, or more blessed to be black,” Byrd said after witnessing Obama’s inauguration.

At Decker Center Forum, Fernando Gomez, a junior English major, said the swearing-in ceremony inspired him.

“Seeing so many people here and on The Mall, I know hope doesn’t just come from the politicians,” Gomez said. “It comes also from the people who believe in it.”

Whether watching the inauguration in person, on television or via the Internet, many members of the McDaniel College community captured their memories in photographs that they will treasure for generations to come.

Nearly 2 million people gathered on the Mall, facing the U.S. Capitol, to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. (Photo by Colin Miller ’11)

Dozens of students, faculty and staff members gathered at Decker Center Forum to watch the swearing-in ceremony. (Photo by Carole Waddell, Learning Specialist, Student Academic Support Services)

Throngs of people gathered on The Mall. (photo by Colin Miller ’11)

1st Lt. Michelle Levesque, an Army reservist, was activated to help with the Inaugural Parade. (Photo submitted by 1st Lt. Michelle Levesque)

Eric Byrd on piano at the Purple Inaugural Ball with his band, the Eric Byrd Trio. (Photo submitted by Eric Byrd)

Many people waved flags as they gathered on The Mall for the historic occasion. (Photo by Colin Miller ’11)

Sunrise at the U.S. Capitol on the morning of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. (Photo by Colin Miller ’11)