Water bottles and snacks in hand, roughly 40 students boarded an overnight bus for a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Washington, D.C. The bus, sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center, will be one of many others driving on slippery roads to reach president-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration today.
“People are very anxious and really excited,” said Kevin Beckford ’11, a passenger on the bus.
From the lucky few students with all-access seats to the swearing-in to those camping out on the Washington Mall in the hopes of watching the ceremony from afar, Yalies are forgoing shopping-week classes and stealing away to the nation’s capital for what is anticipated to be a historic occasion.
Nabbing tickets to the ceremony was no easy task, for those who managed to do so. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Presidential Inauguration Committee provided 240,000 tickets for the swearing-in to the president-elect, vice president-elect and members of Congress, to be distributed at their discretion.
Because of the high demand and limited number of tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, political connections were key for Yalies hoping for a spot close to the new president.
Yale for Obama’s campus coordinator Jacob Koch ’10 said he will attend the inauguration with his two sisters, including Bea Koch ’12, and his father, who was a fundraiser for Obama’s campaign.
Molly Whitehouse ’11 also said she will watch from a ticketed seat at the Capitol. Whitehouse said her father, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ’78 of Rhode Island, received a limited number of seated and standing tickets for distribution.
But with millions of people expected to flood Washington for inauguration festivities, she added, “It’s going to be a madhouse. I think the security is going to be insane.”
Most Yalies, like Kevin Hoffman ’12, trekked the 300 miles from New Haven to Washington to be just one of the millions in the crowd. Hoffman said he and a friend from American University planned to camp out on the Washington Mall Monday night in the hopes of getting one of a limited number of general access passes to the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday. If that fails, he said, they will watch from the mall and later stake out a spot on the Inaugural Parade route.
“It’ll be kind of an adventure,” he added, vowing to tell his future children and grandchildren about the journey.
La Casa, the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center and Saybrook College are sponsoring buses to transport more than 100 more Elis down to Washington.
Tari Owi ’09 said she took the Af-Am bus, which left last night and returns tonight. She said she looks forward to meeting and watching the ceremony with hosts of other Obama supporters.
“Part of what’s so exciting about this is how so many different people are interested in Obama,” she said. “This is honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity,” adding that the free ride on the Af-Am bus is a plus.
While millions of Americans are shelling out big bucks for hotel rooms and transportation, two lucky Yalies have the chance to attend the inauguration festivities free of charge. The Afro-American Cultural Center held a raffle shortly after Obama’s election, offering accommodations, lodging and a ticket to an inauguration ball for two lucky students.
Joel Nezianya ’09 and Danielle Cooper ’10 were announced the winners in an e-mail in the fall.
Nezianya, who canvassed and was involved with Yale for Obama, said he did not find out until a friend approached him in the Berkeley dining hall, playfully nagging, “I hate you. I hate you. You won. I can’t believe you!”
Nezianya said he was initially confused but soon remembered the raffle.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Dean Pamela George, director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, explained in an e-mail to the News that the raffle was organized by Yale Black Alumni, a group in charge of the Af-Am House’s endowment.
Nezianya and Cooper will stay with alumni in Washington. Although they plan to watch the swearing-in from the mall, Nezianya said he will watch the parade from the Pennsylvania Avenue law office of a Yale alumnus. Tuesday night, the two will attend the Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball — one of several inauguration fêtes Obama is set to visit — at the Washington Convention Center.
No matter their proximity to the new president Tuesday — whether in the Capitol, the streets of Washington or a ballroom — many Yalies agreed that seeing and hearing him live will be a moment to remember.
Ezra Marcus ’10, who will also watch the ceremony in Washington, D.C., where he is from, said he looks forward in particular to Obama’s speech.
“I’m hoping for something that will be readable in 30 years,” he said.
Koch echoed Marcus’ expectations. “He’s a candidate who’s known for giving speeches, and this is certainly the biggest, most important speech he’ll ever give,” he said.
But, noting the full list of tasks that awaits Obama, Koch said he hopes Obama’s address will turn quickly to such issues.
“Rather than the culmination of the campaign, it’s the first step of his presidency,” Koch said of the inauguration. “I think everybody’s finally ready to move away from the campaign and finally get down to business.”