Fifty-three Worcester State University students, faculty and staff were among the 800,000 to 1 million people who gathered on and around the National Mall to witness the second inauguration  of President Barack Obama on Monday, January 21.
They traveled overnight by bus to Howard University , from which they walked three miles to a public entrance to the Mall. “There were chutes that were about half-a-football field in length where people were funneled through a security checkpoint,” explained Calvin Hill, director of WSU’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity Office. “When we got there, we were in the middle and stayed there for four hours. Unfortunately, we missed the inauguration.”
“When 11:30 came, people started singing ‘My Country, ’Tis of Thee,’ and pulled out their phones and held them up so everyone could watch the inauguration,” he added.
“While some students tired of the cold and retreated to coffee shops, many braved the cold and waited to see Barack and Michelle Obama parade by, waving and smiling to a diverse and exultant crowd,” said Mark Wagner, director of the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement.
“We saw the President in his motorcade and walking,” Hill said. “That was exciting!”
“The trip to D.C. was a unique experience for me,” said Elvin Rodriguez ’14, a sociology and health education major. “Even though we did not get the chance to see the inauguration, just being in the city during that historic event was exciting. I was able to see (Vice President) Joe Biden and the President as they drove by in their motorcade.”
Diane Lu Chen, an international student, was thrilled about the trip. “We slept on the bus, but were still energetic” when the bus arrived at Howard University, she said. “It was very cold, and we did feel disappointed when we found out we had missed the inauguration.”
She was among the thousands who stood along the parade route. “My impression of the parade is there were a lot of people waiting patiently and looking eagerly to the direction of Capitol Hill,” Chen said. “Everyone had a camera ready, and the street was full of cops. It was still very cold, but started to turn to sunny. Finally, I saw the cars coming with reporters and security guards following. This used to show on the TV news for me, and I was there to watch it in person this time! Then the parade followed, and it looked like a festival.”
Despite the cold and the lines, “being in that environment was helpful to our students—to be a part of that national pride,” Hill noted. “People of all walks of life—African Americans, Hispanics, Asians—were there. It was great for our students to see how proud people were to be American.”
A bit tired and chilled, Wagner said, the WSU “inaugural party” reunited at Howard University and rode through the night, arriving back in Worcester in the middle of a peaceful, nighttime snowstorm.
“It seemed a fitting ending to this memorable trip, which featured a pragmatic lesson in how government works and how the bonds of the citizenry can be renewed by seeing the transition of power live and up close,” he said.