Written by: Joaquin
Edited by: Mayako
Visual by: Sarah P.
The air was a cool 45 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, DC, a city under siege, on Wednesday, January 20th, 2021. Ever since the insurrection on the Capitol two weeks before, the city had been beefing up its National Guard presence and security measures. Airbnb canceled all bookings. Bridges across the Potomac River were closed. The security was meant to prevent a terrorist attack, like the attempts to overturn the election of US President-elect Joseph R. “Joe” Biden, Jr. by supporters of the incumbent, Donald J. Trump.
However, on that chilly January morning, an airplane pierced through the quiet sky, taking off to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” carrying the outgoing president and his family en route to Florida. The events that had become inevitable despite more than sixty court cases, numerous recounts, and an insurrection had become a reality – Joe Biden would be sworn in that noon as the 46th President of the United States. His running mate Kamala D. Harris, the child of immigrants from India and Jamaica, a former prosecutor, and a four-year senator from California, would become the first female, first Black American, and first Asian American Vice President.
Joe Biden is no stranger to Washington. He was first elected to the Senate from Delaware in 1972, an underdog defeating a popular incumbent in what was then a Republican state. He had run for President twice before, in 1988 and 2008. He pulled it off on his third attempt, with the backdrop of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. However, the inauguration was meant to draw a bipartisan message of hope. Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, spent the morning in church with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. He afterward proceeded to the US Capitol building, where the ceremony was taking place. Other guests were present, including the Biden and Harris families, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and incumbent vice president Mike Pence. But none had the spotlight on them – it was all on Biden and Harris.
The national anthem, sung by pop star Lady Gaga, and a prayer opened the event. Now came the first of two moments everyone was on edge for. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice of the US Supreme Court, and Senator Harris stood beside each other. Sotomayor asked Harris to repeat an oath, and with the ending words “so help me God,” a glass ceiling shattered and the United States gained its first female Vice President. At around 11:45 in the morning, Joe Biden said the oath, and Roberts said the customary “congratulations, Mr. President.” The transfer of power was complete, and Joe Biden became President Biden.
Biden concluded the ceremony with a rousing inaugural address highlighting his vision. He cited the deadly pandemic, promising a recovery for the country. However, his most important call was for unity. “Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation.” The ceremony closed with a poem from Amanda Gorman that shook the world, entitled “The Hill We Climb.” “We will not march back to what was/but move to what shall be/A country that is bruised but whole,/benevolent but bold,/fierce and free,” read Gorman, concluding with a call for the unity and growth of an imperfect but special country.
The events received a mainly positive reception, with an ABC News-Ipsos poll showing that 71% of Americans approved of his unity message, a welcome sign despite the polarized times.
English teacher Mr. Cook highlighted the poem when asked for his thoughts, saying that “poets are the standard-bearers of a culture’s soul, and it was cathartic to watch [inaugural poet] Amanda Gorman awaken my home country’s soul from a four-year nightmare. It felt like a purification. When I showed it to my Literature class, many eyes were glistening with tears because, as Gorman said later on CNN, words matter.”
Students, many of whom will come of age during the Biden presidency, also gave the ceremony positive sentiments. “I am proud to know that Kamala Harris is officially the vice president of America. As a girl i feel like there haven’t been enough role models in American politics and it’s hard as a young girl to look up at the world and see men running our governments, said Jacque (11). “I hope that this inspires more girls such as myself to make a difference in this world and I hope that they know that this means positive change in the world we see today.”
The inauguration was a major historical event and a strong demonstration of bipartisan national unity in a time of crisis on many different fronts, and just the beginning of four consequential years of a new administration.