Voices of the Inauguration echo through the capital

By Kara Kubarych

Editor’s note: La Jolla Country Day’s Kara Kubarych was in Washington, D.C., with classmates and teachers for the Inaugural events. She had planned to submit daily reports, but technical problems got in the way. Here’s what she reported after the trip.

Throughout this past election cycle, I became addicted to watching the news. From bickering pundits to heartfelt interviews, I immersed myself in the views, voices, and emotions of Election ’08 and listened intently as the single parent, the African-American family, and the little old lady spoke.

But they were always hidden behind the digital mask of a screen and speakers. I wanted to meet and talk to these people face-to-face - to hear them tell their stories and to share mine with them. When I got to Washington, D.C. on Jan, 19, 2009 - the day before the Inauguration of Barack Obama - I was ready and eager to do just that.

All of the students who went on the La Jolla Country Day School trip to D.C. conducted several interviews each day with different people we encountered on the street, on the National Mall, and in and out of museums and monuments. We talked to people with names, lives, and stories from A to Z about their journeys to D.C. as well as their own their political sentiments when they were teens like us.

Experiencing the morning of Inauguration Day was like swimming in a diverse sea of colors, sizes, faces, smiles, and tears. Each person who braved the cold to witness the swearing-in of President Obama became a cheering speck in the pulsing human mosaic that blanketed D.C. on Jan. 20, 2009. My goal was to illuminate those specks.

The questions and answers that follow are selected from interviews conducted by me and other students on the trip the day of and the day before America began a new chapter of its history.

John Harwood:

Harwood works for both NBC and The New York Times as a political reporter. He was in Washington, D.C., covering the Inauguration, and we spoke with him outside of MSNBC’s temporary broadcasting booth. He grew up in D.C. and has been covering elections throughout his career.

Q: How is this election different from others you’ve covered?

A: “It’s very different for two reasons. One is that we have the first African-American president. The other thing is the situation - the mess - the country’s in right now, economically, also with national security. That creates a convergence of those two facts and makes more interest in Obama. It has floated up his popularity because people are looking to him with a lot of hope, hoping that he can turn the country around. And so that makes for a unique moment.”

Q: What political moment of your youth could you liken to today?

A: “I was only five years old when John F. Kennedy was elected, but I’m imagining that there’s something similar to that moment - generational change, excitement, charisma - but with the added bit of anxiety and fear created by the fact that our economy is in such bad shape.”

Tray Turner:

Turner is an African-American 9-year-old from North Carolina, who came to D.C. with his mom to witness the Inauguration of the first African-American president.

Q: What is the most exciting part about being here?

“I get to go to all different kinds of museums, and I get to see him [Obama] when he gets sworn in.”

Q: What do you think is the most important part of our government?

A: “That we actually go to the right place for war next time.”

Peter Stephanoby and Glen Edwards:

Shephanoby and Edwards are Australian reporters for Channel 9 Australia and were in D.C. covering the star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial as well as the Inauguration.

Q: As foreigners looking into the election here in America, what did you think of Obama and this election?

A: “Everyone in Australia was kind of interested by it because that message that he delivered - that message of hope - spread beyond America and into other parts of the world including Australia, and everyone’s very excited about that.”

Jo Jo:

I found “Jo Jo” lying face-up on the ground around 8 a.m. the morning of the Inauguration, looking up smiling at me, enthusiasm radiating. After we got to talking, he told me that he always introduces himself as “Jo Jo” to strangers, adding, “I like giving the same first name as last!” Donning a punchy jester hat, he soon transformed from a jokester to an inspiring man in his own right.

Q: What inspires you about Obama?

A: “I travel a lot. I’ve been to 61 countries, and Obama really knows how to represent America, as opposed to former presidents, who are antagonistic, who people don’t understand, and who have alienated the world in military terms, environmental terns, in just about every term you can imagine … Now what we’ll have is a partnership with the world, and people will understand what America truly means - what values we cherish - and it’ll be global democracy instead of just our democracy …

We can truly share it with people in Africa. I just returned from Sudan, and in Sudan everybody was extremely excited. First of all, they were a little bit incredulous. They did not think that a black man could be the president of the United States. They were very enthusiastic that he was even considered … Now we can go to the United Nations and the United Nations is not a dirty word. We can participate in the Kyoto Accord so that we have a world to pass on to our children.

There is such a great future with Obama. Obama truly represents the American people - not just a select portion of the American people - and Obama is the man that we need right now … And look at all these people. This is the greatest crowd that has ever gathered together in Washington, D.C.”

Q: What do you do and how do you think Obama will influence your work?

A: “I work with Third World countries - public health - so HIV, immunizations, malaria, diarrhea … Health care in developing countries is a huge, huge issue; it’s a fundamental issue. The most important thing Obama will likely do for us is increase funding and make public health a big issue for Americans because not all Americans have access to health care.”

Indeed, every person we talked to had unusual and insightful thoughts to share with us, face-to-face. But the universal sentiment that struck me most was the sense of renewed patriotism and faith in the American system. A couple of young friends who drove all night from Alabama summed it up best in their thick southern drawl: “I’m always proud of America, but this is really a historic day and it really is the kind of thing - as cliche as sounds - that can only happen in America, so I’m really happy to be a witness to it … We are so excited and overwhelmed by all the people that turned out. You guys are awesome.”