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A Chance to Witness History

New America Media, Commentary, Gabriela Dematteis Posted: Jan 23, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The night Barack Obama was named the President-elect of the United States, I turned to my dad and said, "I want to go to the Inauguration."

I wasn't sure if it was really possible for us to go, but I knew I wanted to try. I knew that this Inauguration would be an opportunity to witness history. I was so happy when my dad told me that he, my mom, and I would all go to Washington, D.C., for the event.

When we arrived in Washington, I could already feel the excitement in the air. Everyone was so happy and courteous; it was almost surreal. It wasn't that I was expecting everyone to be mean; I was just surprised that everyone was so interactive.

GabbyGabriela Dematteis, 18, in Washington for Inauguration events.

On the Sunday before Inauguration Day, I attended the Opening Ceremony at the National Mall. The place was packed; the crowd spanned from the Lincoln Memorial all the way past the Washington Monument. I had been in big crowds before, but this one was different. People struck up conversations with people they didn't know. People shared food and had mini picnics with people they didn't come with and despite the cold weather, no one complained.

Being in the National Mall on the same ground where thousands of people gathered to listen to Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech made me feel really connected to my country's history. I felt connected to everyone gathered around me; we were all there to experience the same moment.

The next day, I participated in the National Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. While preparing care packages for Filipino veterans of World War II, I learned about their struggle to gain veterans' benefits for their military service.

On Inauguration Day, I woke up at 4 a.m. I was so excited that I forgot how tired I was! Even at that early hour, thousands of other people headed to the National Mall. It was so crowded getting off the metro that the escalators were turned off in order to prevent an accident. However, despite it being super crowded and super early, everyone was happy and supportive. While climbing up the long escalator, someone started chanting, "Yes, we can. Yes, we can." Pretty soon, the entire multitude of people in the metro joined in.

When I finally got up to the street surface, I followed the huge crowd to one of the entrances to the mall. I didn't mind being squeezed and packed tightly against other people because that was a good way to keep warm. I ended up in the first un-ticketed section of people. We had many hours to go before the inauguration started, so I spent my time talking with some of the people around me. Again, I cannot stress enough how friendly and courteous everyone was to each other. It led me to believe that something I have long hoped for was happening right before my eyes. Our country was embarking on a new course, one in which the people of the nation are able to set aside their differences and work together to make the country a better place for all.

Along with the hundreds of thousands of people around me, I felt proud to be an American as I watched Barack Obama take the oath of office. I was inspired to pay more attention to and become more involved in our government. At that moment, I was also very happy to have a strong and competent leader in the Oval Office.

I laughed as I remembered a conversation I had had with my mother just the day before: I had heard of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," but I still did not understand what "audacity" meant so I asked my mother. She wasn't entirely sure of its meaning, so I had to look it up in the dictionary. While I was looking up the meaning, I realized that we had gone from a president who was hard to understand because he made up so many of his own words to a president that is still sometimes difficult to understand because he uses words one might have to look up in a dictionary.

On the way home, people were still celebratory. I could hear people asking each other questions like, "How close were you? What section were you in? Wasn't it amazing?" Everyone shared his or her own stories of what it was like to be there. I will always carry that feeling of unity close to my heart and I will never forget my experience.

Related Articles:

The Presidential Inauguration and Hopes for a New Era

Alone at the Inauguration--in India

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