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“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… So help me God.”
The first time these words were spoken was during George Washington’s First Inaugural whereby he ad-libbed those last 4 words April 30, 1789 on the balcony of New York City’s Federal Hall. Most historians believe he planned the words in order provide extra comfort in the uncertainty that lie ahead.
Washington’s vacillation has transformed into conviction, as we now have witnessed 58 swearings-in of the President of the United States of America. In my short lifetime, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness 7 of those instances.
Beginning in 1993 when I was just a shade over 10-years-old, a family friend took me to witness President Bill Clinton’s first Oath of Office. My father had just finished running for local office, and I was becoming very interested in the political process. The entry of Ross Perot, a 3rd-party candidate with the big pointy ears who seemed to never hear criticism, piqued my attention. And I became an early supporter.I was interested in learning how this political game was played. Click To Tweet
Even though Perot didn’t win, I was interested in learning how this political game was played. So I delved deeply into the process, and that family friend asked me if I wanted to see what the board game looked like when the election was settled. So we traveled about 4 hours south to Washington, D.C. to witness my first Presidential Inauguration. Washed, rinsed, and repeated it in 1997, too.
By 2001, I not only had a driver’s license that permitted me to travel to the inauguration by myself (which I did), but I was also able to cast my first presidential vote for Vice President Al Gore. In what turned out to be a contentious end to the election – who can forget the infamous “hanging chad” fiasco in Florida – I made my way back to the National Mall to welcome President George W. Bush.
Without a chaperone, I decided to try and “take in” as much of the day as I could. I walked about 7 miles that year, watching support groups and protest groups exercising their 1st Amendment rights. It was a site to behold, and one that would only advance with difficulties 4 years later after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a couple of wars complicated our social fabric.
For President Bush’s Second Inaugural, I traveled with a girl I was dating at the time and a few of her friends – all of whom were taking in their first. There was a lot of activity during this inaugural in particular, but I’ll never forget the stomach-churning sight of seeing Iraq War Veterans assembled in protest, with their amputated limbs, expressive faces, and burning their war medals. I had a brother who was already over there fighting in the war, so I couldn’t stop thinking about what it was doing to him.
Come 2009, I received my first ticket to President Barack Obama’s First Inaugural, which I attended with a few college / political friends who were living in the
nation’s capital at the time. For this event, I’ll never forget two things: first, getting on the metro’s very first car of the day at Grosvener-Strathmore and packing it full, so much so that every stop between there and the Metro Center was greeted with cheers of excitement and then boos of the letdown. And second, the absolute bitter cold of the day. Having a ticket was amazing, as we were able to be so close to the scene in the Capitol Complex that I didn’t need a Jumbotron to watch the first African American President deliver his address, but rather could see his mouth move in person.
In 2013, I took my fiancee (now wife) to her first inauguration, and we stood on the frozen lawn of the National Mall once more, with our miniature flags in hand waving as President Obama delivered what I considered to be the best address I’d heard to that point.
And now, in 2017, I made my way to the nation’s capital once more, again by myself, to continue a tradition of supporting the end of the long political process of Presidential pursuits. While this one was the least crowded of my memory (my Republican friends like to either insert a joke that “all the supporters were working” or note that there was fear of protests, which I understand, because there were plenty of protests), I’ll remember that the Westboro Baptist Church retweeted my picture of their protest.
Moving forward, it matters not who the President-elect is – in this election or any other – I will go there to take in the historic moments of a man (or woman) ascending the U.S. Capitol’s Western Portico to swear in as the new leader of our nation. As a social studies teacher and active citizen, this is an important moment – and tradition – for me and for all Americans.
Next time, I imagine my then-5-year-old son will be with me to begin his own tradition of Inauguration attendance; I hope some of my students join in as well.