WASHINGTON – Middle school students from Tucson woke before sunrise Monday so they could compete with hundreds of thousands for a seat on the National Mall to see the presidential inauguration.
They were not able to get closer than a mile to the Capitol and had to watch President Barack Obama being sworn in on a big screen, but that didn’t dampen enthusiasm of the students from Dodge Middle School.
“It’s cool to think that the president is not even a mile away,” said Isabella Ortiz, 13.
When asked why he was excited to attend the event, Dodge student Evan Higby answered: “Barack Obama got four more years – wooo!”
The students were among the thousands who wound their way for several miles through residential Washington neighborhoods on a crisp winter morning to attend Monday’s ceremony.
After musical presentations and prayer, the president and vice president were sworn in ceremonially at midday – the actual swearing-in was Sunday, the date specified in the Constitution, in a private ceremony in the White House.
In his inaugural address, Obama called for immigration reform that would welcome the bright young immigrants, peace that doesn’t require “perpetual war,” and greater focus on equality. He also called for swift action in all these areas.
“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life…. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time ? but it does require us to act in our time,” he said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton called the inaugural address better than the address Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention.
Stanton, who was in Washington for the event, said he appreciated Obama’s vision for immigration reform, action on climate change and further equality among disenfranchised groups.
“We’ve got some big things to do in this country, and now’s the time to do them,” Stanton said. “We owe it to our future generations to get these things right.”
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, who attended with his family, said he was moved by the day’s events.
“I saw just a mass of who we are – a rainbow of America across the color spectrum, across the ethnic spectrum,” Barber said. “It’s who we are coming together. And I loved what the president kept saying: We the people. Because that’s really what it’s all about here.”
National Guardsmen, park rangers, Girl and Boy Scouts were all part of an army of volunteers and staffers brought in from all across the United States to make the event possible.
Rayne Rohrbach, a ranger at Zion National Park and a Payson native, came to provide emergency medical services and said he was excited to work in Washington for the day, instead of the wilderness.
“Instead of skyscrapers, we have 2,000-foot cliffs,” he said of Zion National Park. He was also struck by the size of the crowd, noting that the number of people at the inauguration was equal to about six months of attendance at Zion.
The work of people like Rohrbach made it possible for many others, such as Alma Hayes of Birmingham, Ala., to celebrate Obama’s re-election.
Hayes, a member of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, said she was glad Obama won the election because she “wanted just a good person who is for all people, not just Democrats or Republicans.”
Even though she and her classmates are still too young to vote, Dodge Middle School student Maya Jones, 12, just hoped that the event would make politics and political events come alive for her fellow students.
“Some students don’t realize how interesting they can be,” Jones said.
– Cronkite News Service reporters Connor Radnovich and Vaughn Hillyard contributed to this report.