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2009 Winter Issue 2 (January 23, 2009)

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration; Carleton students travel to Washington for historic day

January 23, 2009
By Beth Budnick

On Tuesday, Jan. 20, roughly two million Americans lined the gates, sidewalks and lawns of the National Mall in Washington to witness the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. Carleton students traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness this historic moment live, joining the two million people in attendance.

Indeed, while most Carls marked the end of the Bush era by crowding around the TV in upper Sayles, cozying up in a dorm lounge or on the couch of a nearby living room, some of our very own stood among the massive throngs in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration.

Among the Carleton students in the multitudes on the Mall were Brian Gilbert ’11, Nathan Kohlenberg ’12, Arpita Bhattacharyya ’10, Janae Walton-Green ’10, James Hannaway ’10 and Claire Price ’11.

Gilbert and Kohlenberg had traveled to the inauguration with Katherine Richardson ‘11, Katie Markle ’11 and Robert Orion Martin ’11, and all five held tickets for the purple-ticket gate. The latter three, however, were unable to get past the “random and difficult” security and crowds at the “now-infamous” purple gate at the inauguration, according to Richardson. Ultimately, they watched the inauguration on “a small black and white TV with flashes of color in a tiny Chinese restaurant,” said Richardson and Martin.

The group had left Northfield around 5 p.m. on Saturday night for the long journey—a 20-hour drive—to Washington, D.C. “We just drove through the night,” said Gilbert. While the weekend was relatively calm in Washington, Gilbert described the city on Monday and Tuesday as “absolutely crazy.”

“The level of Obamamania was almost hard to imagine,” said Gilbert, who described no riots, but a tone of “mass hysteria” that was “a little overwhelming.”

“Everyone was just really, really happy,” he continued. “Everywhere you went, there was someone screaming ‘Obama.’”

On Monday night, the group of Gilbert, Kohlenberg, Richardson, Markle and Martin stayed in a dorm at Georgetown, and then woke up around 3 a.m. on Tuesday to begin their trek to the Mall, where they arrived around 4 a.m. But when they arrived, there was a line at the gate for their tickets that “wrapped around a couple of city blocks, and under tunnels,” recalled Gilbert.

“The closer it got to the time of swearing in, we really didn’t move anywhere. It was a difficult situation to say the least,” said Gilbert. He and Kohlenberg, however, were in front of their three fellow travelers in the line and made their way into the gate area “about a minute before the swearing-in began,” said Gilbert. “It was a mad rush.”

Also pushing her way through the purple gate in this swarm of people was Bhattacharyya, who had arrived by plane on Sunday and was staying her with 26 year-old sister, a Congressional staffer.

Bhattacharyya described arriving at the scene of the purple ticket-holders. “When we got there, there was a two-mile long line for people with tickets,” said Bhattacharyya. She described waiting in a tunnel for “three or four hours” before finally emerging around 11:30. “It was so dangerous,” she continued. “Just this huge mob of people. But we were the lucky ones who got in. We got in right as Rick Warren started speaking,” she said.

Once inside the gates, “there were just so many people,” Bhattacharyya said. “When we looked at the screen, it was just like… you’re part of those 2 million people there.”

Bhattacharyya, with her sister, was also able to attend the Eastern Ball on Tuesday night, and further attended the Staff Ball on Wednesday night. Claire Price was also representing Carleton on the ballroom floor; she attended the Youth Ball held Tuesday night.

For Bhattacharyya, the Eastern Ball was full of excitement.“At around 12:30, Barack and Michelle came into the ball. It was their last stop of the night,” she said.

“I was about twenty feet away from [the Obamas],” she said. ““It was one of most memorable experiences of my life. Just absolutely insane.”

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