Jan. 20, 2009

Freshman at inauguration is witness to history

Provided/Alyssa O'Connor
Alyssa O'Connor attends the University Presidential Inaugural Conference.

ILR School student Alyssa O'Connor '12 is in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of other university students participating in a five-day program sponsored by the University Presidential Inaugural Conference.

Today she watched the inauguration from a "ticketed" area adjacent to the U.S. Capitol platform where Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

The inauguration, she said, "was like nothing I had ever seen before -- the enthusiasm of the people all around you, it was so amazing to see thousands of people cheering and screaming and hugging each other."

Provided/Alyssa O'Connor
Former Vice President Al Gore talks about three major problems the United States faces: the economy, the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the climate crisis. Gore said that the common thread between the three problems is dependence on carbon-based fuels, and we need to invest in alternative energy to combat this. "He was a very dynamic speaker and really enthralled the crowd," O'Connor said.

Here are her observations about her inauguration week experiences.

On the highlight of the week

It's the cumulative experience, especially hearing the president's speech and the reactions of the crowd. The most memorable part was the president's speech. He definitely delivered. It was very inspirational.

Provided/Alyssa O'Connor
O'Connor attended the Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Performers included Bruce Springsteen, on the large screen above, Beyonce, Usher, Stevie Wonder, Shakira and Garth Brooks.

On what surprised her

I was a little surprised by how brutal the crowd was at some moments. When they were introducing some of the past presidents at the inauguration, both the Bushes got pretty loud boos. I thought that was a little discouraging. … I thought it was out of place.

Provided/Alyssa O'Connor
O'Connor with Sen. John McCain at a bipartisan dinner held in his honor by President-elect Obama Jan. 19.

On security

It was kind of like going through airport security. The Secret Service checked one person at a time, and there were thousands of people at each entrance to the National Mall. We went there at midnight, and we ended up going onto the mall around 8 a.m. It was something out of an action movie -- police on bicycles, motorcycles, absolutely everywhere, and helicopters circling overhead.

On the weather

It was bitter cold, but coming from Ithaca, I knew what to expect. It was 20 degrees at 4 a.m. Homeland Security provided "warming buses" outside the mall. They were inconspicuous, parked buses, with the heat on. You could sit there as long as you wanted to.

Provided/Alyssa O'Connor
Images of Obama.

On the mood of the crowd

Energetic and full of excitement. I attended the concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Musical artists Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Usher, Stevie Wonder, Shakira and Garth Brooks performed. Though there were 800,000 other people standing in the cold, cramped together with me, everyone was elated and gracious. People were singing, dancing and celebrating.

On what the other students in her group are saying about the new administration

Many are excited for the Obama administration but recognize the enormous issues President Obama will have to deal with. There has to be a point where the rhetoric ends and the action begins.

Mary Catt is a staff writer for the ILR School.