Area residents bring memories, messages from Inaugural

Among the throngs on the National Mall and within the ticketed areas for Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president was a large contingent from the San Diego region.

Students from schools in La Jolla and Carmel Valley, loyal Democrats and those who wanted to be a part of history braved crowded airports and trains and freezing weather.

Thirteen-year-old Blake Shores, a Muirlands Middle School seventh grader from La Jolla, who spent the morning near the Washington Monument said simply, “It was such a privilege to see Barack Obama get inaugurated.”

He said he met a lot of black Americans while he was there who helped him understand “what’s happened in history … that finally America has recognized that we can accept an African American as president.”

Learning traditions

Blake was nominated to be part of the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference last year by his sixth grade teacher. The five-day program for youngsters from around the country is designed to help them gain a greater understanding of the electoral process and the traditions of the inauguration.

Nick Bosse and his brother Max, La Jollans who attend Francis Parker School, were also there with the youth conference. Nick said, “It was so inspirational and good to feel history happening all around me.”

Another student, Mackenzie Tucker, a Carmel Valley resident who attends Cathedral Catholic High School, was there with 400 students of the Presidential Youth Leadership Conference.

A junior, she too was on the National Mall for the swearing in. Her group arrived about 3:30 a.m. and while it was “pretty cold, it was amazing,” she said.

Seeing history

“There was someone standing next to me, a man who had experienced Jim Crow segregation … he started crying when President Obama was sworn in.” Acknowledging that it sounds a bit cliche, she said the lasting message she’ll take from the event is that “Americans had hope … when I was there in the crowd I felt happiness and relief that we have overcome the barriers for African Americans.”

While area students were soaking up history, adults were too. Debra Feinberg of Carmel Valley didn’t quite make it to her destination. She and her group of 10 had planned to go in through the parade entrance but never got in. But, she said, “It didn’t make a difference. … It was like going to a convention. You come back jazzed.”

Feeling hope

She too felt a “spirit of hope,” she added. “I heard stories and looked at the faces of the older black Americans. … While (Obama) was elected by all of us, this was their day.”

Charlie Imes and Martha Sullivan of Del Mar, part of the San Diego Democratic contingent, said they had a hard time finding adjectives to describe their time in the nation’s capital. On Inauguration Day, they were standing in the “blue” ticketed section, behind those who were seated.

“By the time Feinstein started speaking,” Imes said, “I could feel this is really happening. … when Aretha sang, my heart was in my throat … I was moved to tears.”

Iconic image

Sullivan, who “had no idea I could subject myself to the freezing weather,” said on Friday before heading home that she is “floating on the sense of hope and possibility. Today we are all one, but there’s lots of hard work ahead of us.”

She said she particularly enjoyed seeing all the people around the congressional office buildings as they picked up their tickets. “They were lined up around three buildings, at all of the entrances … it was an iconic image of democracy.” What stood out, she added, was that there was “an automatic connection from people from all across the country who instantly became friends.”

Special connection

La Jollan Patricia Winter, who had a special link to the event since her daughter Melissa is Michelle Obama’s deputy chief of staff, said it was “amazing being there … I couldn’t get over how nice everyone was.”

She saw her daughter for only 15 minutes during her stay, she said, and didn’t arrive at her seat until 10:45 a.m. because the train she was on was delayed when a woman fell onto the tracks (but was not injured). Even then, she noted, people were still nice.

The event will stand out in her mind, she said, because the new president and his staff provide new role models for our diverse population.