It’s hard to believe I was there, in D.C., standing in front of the capitol building for President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. It seems simple enough—I heard the guy talk, it was cold outside, he said some important things, I came back home and lived my life. But it isn’t that simple. He’s a powerful speaker and has a great team of speechwriters, sure, but there’s just something about his message that sticks.
Before my trip to D.C., I identified as a politically apathetic pseudo-liberal. I come from a long line of conservatives and I’ve always felt like the odd one out, but I have only voted once in my life: for Obama in the 2012 election. His respect for and support of the LGBT community is something new, revolutionary, even, for the presidential office, and his courage to support marriage equality was enough to earn my vote.
I was able to go to the inauguration and an inaugural ball through my good friend, who took a semester off and worked on the Obama for America Campaign last year in Dallas. Listening to her talk about the election made me jealous: I wanted to be that driven and passionate about something in my life. So when she asked me to be her plus-one to the inauguration and the staff-only inaugural ball, I absolutely couldn’t say no. I took six days off from school and work and booked my flight to D.C.
There’s something about the city that made me fall in love: it’s old and historical, but also buzzing with energy. It felt like there was something new happening around every corner; like there was so much history packed into every inch of the place that it could take years to understand it all.
The temperature on inauguration day was relentless, and we spent a great deal of time standing in lines and in mobs and pushing through barriers just to get a better view. We ended up standing very close to the capitol—close enough to see the people at the podium, which is more than a lot of people in attendance could say. The pomp and circumstance of the whole event was fascinating, from the U.S. Marine Band—which has played at every inauguration since Thomas Jefferson’s—to the specific pecking order of attendees announced to the crowd. It was almost like watching historical re-enactment but with a dash of modernism. This blend of old and the new was a thread woven through every facet of the inauguration, from the president’s speech to the benediction, the poetry reading and Beyoncé’s national anthem.
I cannot stress how amazing it was to be present for that speech. President Obama gave his nod to Seneca Falls and Stonewall, and I remember nodding my head in agreement, as I thought he was going to stop here … but he didn’t. He built on these historic moments to a crescendo in which he demanded for all: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” This is about where I lost it — tears streamed down my face as the crowd absolutely roared to life. I’m honestly getting chills just thinking about it.
The crowd was deafening; people around me were crying audibly and saying “Preach” to punctuate his every few sentences. It was invigorating to be surrounded by people—old and young, gay, straight, of all colors and locations; people from from all walks of life who were there for the same reason: just to hear him speak. Just to see him, a tiny speck at a podium on a cold winter’s day. The conversations I had that day with complete strangers, our shared emotion, the hope that he instilled in us was something I will carry with me for a lifetime. It was incredible.
At the staff-only inaugural ball, the first thing we saw was the enormous scaled-down replica of the capitol made entirely of cheesecake. Yes, we definitely had a piece. Yes, it was delicious. As we walked through the ballroom, the crowd was abuzz with gossip about whether Obama would be there, whether he would speak … and sure enough, he did. There is just something absolutely human about him, which is something I didn’t feel like I could say about the other presidential candidates. He and First lady Michelle came to the stage, humble and appreciative, and spoke about how grateful they are to the volunteers and staff who helped him get re-elected. His speech was short, unscripted and completely heartfelt. He and Michelle joked together on stage, all the while continuing to thank the people in the crowd for their support and encouraging them to do good things with their lives. “The thing that outlives each of us,” he told us, “is what we do for somebody else.”
This gives me hope as both a young adult and a straight ally. I know that moving forward will be challenging, but I have renewed hope in our nation’s ability to pull together. It’s hard to believe that in two or three generations, kids will know there’s nothing wrong with being gay; where being gay isn’t something to be teased about or bullied over or legislated against—it’s something to be embraced. President Obama took a brave step forward in the right direction. I’m proud to have voted this man into office and to have been so fortunate to witness this piece of history.