Although I have yet to attend one in Washington, DC, I am a faithful follower. Every four years after an election, I am tuned in on January 20th to witness the events unfold before me. I’ve now seen 11 Inaugurations and am still amazed by them. Whether it be a Democrat or Republican who officially takes office, this ceremony is always one to behold. It’s the first time we get to hear our newly elected or second term president speak to us about their current visions for our country. This event offers a huge stage to the person being sworn in. Not only is our country watching, but the eyes of the world are on our president, too.
January 22, 2013, Newbury Park, California
“I watched the Inauguration on TV yesterday morning…so cool! I actually saw the swearing in but not the festivities. Still it felt so good to witness it. I hope President Obama does well this term. Lots of challenges in the last four years. They said 800,000+people showed up – wow!”
The tone, style, even length of each inauguration speech I’ve heard, has differed. Yet there are two ideas that resonate throughout them. Hope and unity.
In his 1985 Inaugural speech, President Ronald Reagan applauded our nation for coming together in challenging times. He spoke of what he called the “American sound” saying “It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, caring, decent and fair.” President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural speech took place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1997. As such, he paid tribute to Dr. King and called on Americans of all races, cultures, and religions to heal all divisions and become one.
Following the terrorist attacks of 911 and the US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush took to the podium when sworn in for his second term. These words rang out, “We need to be a champion for human rights around the world because our country was founded on the belief that all people are created equal.” In 2013, President Barack Obama talked of meeting the moment after a decade of war and economic recovery. “We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”
Like before, I was eagerly awaiting last week’s Inauguration Day. This year even more so given all the turmoil we’ve been experiencing as a nation. Precious lives have been lost due to the pandemic, systemic racism and civil unrest. We’re dealing with loss of jobs, a suffering economy and a recent attack on our democracy.
I wanted to hear something hopeful. I wanted to hear something unifying. I wanted to hear what I could do to help. This is what I heard.
President Joe Biden began by referring January 20th 2021 as “a day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve.” Then continued, “Today we celebrate the triumph of not the candidate, but the cause. The cause of democracy.” He said in order to overcome the challenges we face, we need to be united. “Let us listen to one another. See one another. Show respect for one another.” He called us to action. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this by opening our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in someone else’s shoes just for a moment.” In closing President Biden said, “And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and healing.”
I, for one, am ready to join in. I want to be a part of this American story. Beginning with my eyes and ears, and mind and heart. Opened wide.