WASHINGTON — Penn students rose as early as 3 a.m. Monday to join the crowd of over one million spectators for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on the National Mall.
Penn Democrats, Rodin College House and the Penn chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People all took busloads of students to the nation’s capitol for the day, leaving early in the morning and returning to campus late at night.
“It was amazing — I’ve never seen so many people in my life,” said College freshman Nikki Moorer, who went on the trip with Penn Dems. “The energy was insane. It’s definitely something I’m never going to forget ever.”
Penn Dems left with 54 students at 4 a.m. on Inauguration Day from Upper Quad Gate. Only about two hours later, they were walking towards the Capitol, where Obama would be sworn in for a second term at 11:30 a.m.
“We had built in some extra time for driving so we could get there on time,” Penn Dems Communications Director Jane Meyer said. “Luckily we didn’t hit any.”
Some students had tickets to the event in reserved sections close to the steps of the Capitol. After the swearing-in, the attendees split up — some visited monuments and museums, some saw the inaugural parade and others met newly-elected Rep. and 1986 Law School graduate Matt Cartwright.
“It was a really cold day, we got started really early, but just standing there among people who were equally enthusiastic about the president and the president’s plans for the next four years was really exciting,” Meyer said.
Other groups that made the trek to D.C. had similar experiences. A busload of 47 Rodin residents donned matching blue hats and left campus at 3 a.m. After arriving at the Mall at around 7 a.m. — just as the gates to the site were opening — they were allowed to fill in the back of the ticketed area, even without tickets.
“Everyone was kind of in it together because it was such a long wait and people were cold,” said Allison Hansen, the Graduate Associate for the Leadership Residential Program in Rodin, which sponsored the trip. “I didn’t know what we were getting into because I had never gone to an inauguration. I know it’s chaotic with such a big crowd, but everyone did a great job.”
Between stern warnings about getting to the event early and transportation horror stories from Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Penn Dems and Rodin weren’t alone in giving themselves extra time. Fearing long lines at Metro stations on Inauguration Day, College sophomore and President of Penn’s chapter of the NAACP Kyle Webster traveled to Washington alone Friday to buy fare cards in advance for the 59 Penn students who would be in attendance.
“It was electric — that’s the only way I can describe it,” Webster said. “Everyone was really happy to be there.”
Penn’s NAACP chapter joined forces with chapters at Temple University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, collectively sending over 100 students to the event.
College freshman Talia Marcus stayed at a friend’s house in the area, and didn’t have many issues with large crowds.
“It was definitely crowded, but we got our fare cards yesterday so we were able to go right through,” Marcus said. “It was pretty easy.”
College senior Sophie Feldman had tickets to Obama’s 2009 inauguration, and said she better enjoyed this year’s event — where she watched the swearing-in deep within a crowd on the Mall.
“You could see the dots that were people — presumably — but you couldn’t make anything out,” Feldman said. “But it wasn’t really about that. It was about being there and being close to all the action.”
Although some large patches of grass weren’t filled in until about 45 minutes before the start of the event, visitors eventually poured out of Metro stations and tour buses to fill nearly a mile-long section of the Mall.
While they could hardly see Obama step up to the podium to deliver his second inaugural address, even those near the back waved their American flags — passed out to nearly every member of the audience — with eyes glued to one of the several large screens set up along the Mall.
But after a long day of walking, waiting and flag waving, even that excitement couldn’t keep some awake.
“Everyone was completely passed out on the way back,” Hansen said of Rodin’s 3 a.m.-risers. “It was just silent in the bus.”