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Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaking at his presidential campaign kick-off rally on May 18, 2019. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Former Penn Presidential Professor of Practice Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States this afternoon in a ceremony markedly different from any other inauguration in the nation's history. 

The inauguration, held on the West Lawn of the Capitol, saw limited attendance due to recent right-wing mob attacks on the Capitol and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After leaders in the Washington region urged Americans earlier this week to stay away from D.C., only about 1,000 guests attended the inauguration in person, most of them members of Congress.  

“I will be a president for all Americans,” Biden said in his address on the Capitol steps. 

Biden’s inauguration speech centered around the theme of "America United," a common focus of the Biden-Harris campaign, which preaches unity amid the political and health crises the nation continues to battle. 

“Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded,” Biden said. "At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”  

He spoke of challenges facing America, namely the pandemic, the economy, and racial injustice. 

“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words,” he said. “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”

Biden was declared victorious against former President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump on Nov. 7 after he was projected to win Pennsylvania, propelling him above the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the election. Trump has since repeatedly refused to accept the election results, resulting in him being impeached for a historic second time. He was also the first president to skip his successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869.  

Biden was sworn in just after noon by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and Kamala Harris, the first woman, Black American, and Asian American to be vice president, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Credit: Chase Sutton National Guard members walking by the United States Capitol on Jan. 19. About 25,000 National Guard personnel are stationed in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration.

The inauguration included a televised virtual “Parade Across America," showcasing various organizations across the nation, such as the Youth Empowerment Project from Louisiana and the Chinese Cultural Arts Center from Delaware. A virtual lighting ceremony aired on Jan. 19 as a tribute to the over 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.

As Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning, he spoke to a small crowd and touted various accomplishments made during his term. He wished the new administration “great luck and great success,” but did not name either Biden or Harris.

“Have a good life — we will see you soon,” Trump said to his audience.

Penn President Amy Gutmann, who attended the inauguration, praised Biden's longstanding relationship with the Penn community in a Jan. 20 Instagram post. 

"[Biden's] curiosity in each person within the Penn community was meaningful and real, and is a great testament to his character, his impact, and undoubtedly the way he'll approach governing our nation," Gutmann wrote. 

Due to the restricted nature of the event, far fewer Penn students attended the inauguration ceremony than in a more typical election season. Members of Penn Democrats' Executive Board, many of whom volunteered to aid the Biden-Harris campaign, expressed their excitement for the president to take office as they watched the inauguration from home. 

"After such a chaotic and dangerous presidency, it’s comforting to see a person with such compassion and leadership inaugurated as our next president," College sophomore and Penn Dems Political Director Noah Lewine said. "We’re incredibly hopeful for all of the progressive policy that the Biden administration will have the opportunity to enact." 

Wharton sophomore Holly Anderson, who serves as Penn Dems' communications director, added that she is eager for Biden and Harris to take office and begin acting on their campaign promises. 

"Between a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package, aggressive climate action, and day-one commitment to modernize our immigration policies, this administration has their work cut out for them," Anderson said. "Our club believes that Biden must remember who elected him to office and enact progressive policies that support working class Americans." 

Biden was appointed to the honorary position of Benjamin Franklin presidential practice professor in early 2017. While he did not teach classes or appear on Penn's campus frequently, he opened the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in D.C. a year later, which continues to be a resource for students. Biden took an unpaid leave of absence from his role at the Center after announcing he was running for president in April 2019. 

Several of Biden’s family members have also attended the University, including his late son, 1991 College graduate Beau Biden, his daughter, 2010 School of Social Policy & Practice graduate Ashley Biden, and granddaughter, 2016 College graduate Naomi Biden. Biden also has two granddaughters, College senior Finnegan Biden and College sophomore Maisy Biden, who are currently at Penn.