Inauguration not what I imagined, still inspiring
Last updated 1/20/2021 at 3:51pm | View PDF
Imagining what the inauguation would look like in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was difficult for me.
Would Planet Fitness sponsor "pods" for first responders to view the events, as they did at Times Square on New Year's Eve?
Would 6-foot circles be chalked on the ground, with invitees bringing their own lawn chairs to sit in them?
Would everything be broadcast on Zoom or Google Teams?
Having stood - wedged shoulder to shoulder - with other attendees at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, I have a hard time imaging it any other way.
I have so many wonderful memories of that inauguration week, when my roommate and I promised ourselves we wouldn't let the events interfere with our master's degree studies at American University.
We broke our promise, of course, so we could visit the fair on the Mall, watch Aretha Franklin sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, hear Clinton take the oath of office and see the presidential motorcade traveling from one ball to another as we rode the bus home from a party. It is a week I will never forget.
Prior to yesterday's broadcast, I was thinking this inauguration would be one I'd want to forget, with the Washington Monument and National Mall closed to visitors and thousands of National Guard troops standing guard after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
I was saddened by the message to the American people from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, urging them to stay home.
I found it so discouraging that President Trump was choosing to skip town before the ceremony, becoming the first incumbent president to miss his successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson did so in 1869.
And then I watched the ceremony as Joe Biden became our 46th president.
Instead of 200,000 people filling the National Mall, 200,000 beautiful American flags stood in their place.
Trump was absent, but Vice President Mike Pence was there. So were former Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton. Former President Jimmy Carter couldn't attend, but Biden had talked to him Tuesday night and took a moment to honor his service to our country.
Other lawmakers and guests, Republicans and Democrats, were on hand, too, to witness the event.
Lady Gaga once again hit it out of the park with her rendition of the National Anthem, and J.Lo and Garth Brooks shared their talents as well.
I'll admit I teared up as Kamala Harris became the first woman to serve as vice president of these United States, just 12 years after we watched the swearing in of our first Black president.
But it was the message I heard from Biden that I found most comforting. At 78, he is the oldest man to ever become president. He's old-school, to be sure, and I think that might be just what we need. He hearkened back to a time when people could agree to disagree. (Although he did not address it, I hope that means he will stand against social media's silencing of opposing voices.)
My favorite lines from his address: "Hear me out as we move forward," he requested of the American people. "Take the measure of me and my heart and if you still disagree, so be it. That is democracy. That is American, the right to dissent peaceably.
"We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal," he added later. "We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our heats, if we show a little toleration and humility and if we're willing to stand in the other person's shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment."
Biden challenged us to become "the people and the nation we know we can and should be."
Let's take up his call.
- Pamela Lannom is editor
of The Hinsdalean.
Readers can email her at