Editor’s Note: We conclude Don’s insightful series on presidential inaugurations with a personal reflection on this year’s iteration.

–by Allie Swislocki

6:00am is daunting. Mondays are unpopular. 20 degrees is startlingly cold. Three-day weekends are meant to be cherished. All four combined should lead to snooze-buttons, slow breakfasts, and a foot-dragging march to the metro—or just giving up and staying home. But Monday, January 21, 2013, saw the opposite for almost one million people from around the world. The 57th Presidential Inauguration, President Obama’s second (well, fourth, really) swearing in, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and was not to be missed.

I have only vague memories of the 2009 ceremonies. Still basking in the glow of fresh New Year’s resolutions, I watched part of the Inaugural Address from the gym at UCLA (probably the one and only early morning workout of my undergraduate career) before heading out into the warm Los Angeles morning, hurrying off to class, more focused on the lecture at hand than history in the making.

The rouge tree

The rogue tree

Now I had a chance to attend the ceremony in person.  Excited at the prospect of watching President Obama be sworn in for a second term (and further lured by the promise of seeing Her Royal Highness, Queen Beyonce, the ruler of all things great and awesome), I made plans to brave the Metro and the Mall on January 21. The night before, I hit the jackpot and came into tickets, close enough to actually see what was going on (even if everything was partly obscured by a rogue tree). We left the house at 7:00 am, were in line by 8:30, in by 9:30, and had two hours to spare before everything began.

I will admit—the idea of attending the inauguration both excited and scared me. For the past 2 years, I’d heard countless horror stories—there aren’t enough bathrooms, it will be cold enough to kill William Henry Harrison, you’ll get trapped in a tunnel, etc. But I was determined to go anyway. And even with almost one million people crowded onto the National Mall, and my strong distaste for crowds, it was completely, 100% worth it.

USCHS staff visited the platform outside the day after the inauguration.

USCHS staff visited the platform outside the Capitol the day after the inauguration.

I’ve voted in two presidential elections, but, voting in California and DC, I’ve never felt particularly influential. Being at the Inauguration was the first time I’d felt deeply, truly involved. I love American history, our cultural melting pot (mainly what it does to our cuisine), Broadway musicals and the Fourth of July. I find myself feeling stirringly patriotic staring at the Capitol dome, or seeing the Washington Monument rising at the end of my street. We are a nation of countless different desires, hopes, ideals, and ideas. Presidential elections give us a chance to check a box and pick between two people, choosing the one who best supports what we want as individuals. The match is usually far from perfect. It’s not about finding someone who will do exactly what you want. It’s about finding someone who you believe in, someone you trust to steer the country in the right direction. Not even necessarily to get us there, to bring us to the Promised Land, but just keep us on the right track. And at the Inauguration, I felt that hope, that belief, that passion, in everyone around me and inside myself. It’s what brings people to the polls. It’s what sends young people to fight for their country. It’s what wrote the Star Spangled Banner. It’s what makes America, America. And I am so glad to be a part of it.

The Capitol, as seen from the inaugural platform

The Capitol, as seen from the inaugural platform