WASHINGTON — On November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy fell minutes past noon, a man entered Liggett’s — a New Haven drug store — and exchanged seven pennies for a copy of the Register.

“You have to read something before it’s true,” he said, according to the extra edition of the Yale Daily News printed that evening. “You have to read it.”

A Yale man entered Dwight Hall and didn’t come out; couples wandered Old Campus near the Yale Fence looking sick and saying nothing; two men cried to one another on opposite sides of Elm Street; Mory’s staff served alcohol to no one, and it was a Friday evening.

Everyone was alone; the leader was dead; hope was, too, and a generation wished it were dreaming.

On January 20, 2009, the day Barack Obama rose minutes past noon, a black man stood in the shadows of the Third Street NW underpass and belted the theme song from The Jeffersons, only modified: “We’re movin’ on up — to the White House. We finally got a piece of the pie.”

He said he did not mind if police forced him to remain in the dark all day. He said he did not mind if he were not able to see or hear the oath, the speech or the moment. The truth, he said, would be in the crowd. There were millions of us.

I watched, and I shivered, from Pennsylvania Avenue and Third. I spoke to almost no one for twelve hours and never sat down. I read about the “radicalism” of the American Revolution for class and never stopped wondering why I chose frostbite over a seminar on Cole Porter’s music and lyrics. I traded two double-A batteries for two macadamia-nut cookies.

I shed several tears at the mention of my favorite composer, John Williams, and several more at the fumbling of the Oath of Office. I snapped photographs on my iPhone, scribbled notes in my black-moleskin notebook (“Note to children: I was here on 1/20/09 … Biden’s kids emerge!! … THE TIME HAS COME … History, history HISTORY”), and sang “A Whole New World” when it spontaneously broke out nearby.

I considered what force had compelled me — and two million of my fellow Americans — to shiver for so long in this Washington winter.

I returned to my comparatively canicular dorm room that evening and, in search of an answer, read about a Friday 45 years ago that my mother and father tell me was like no other, if a day is measured by how much is lost or gained in its twenty-four hour span. November 22, 1963 and January 20, 2009, it turns out, are not so unalike.

Yet yesterday became true to us not by way of reading — nor even by way of televisions, telephones or terabytes — but by way of others: cohorts, colleges and crowds. It’s not always that way, which is why I — why everyone — chose to freeze.

Yale men and Yale women chanted in unison on buses on interstates; a senior draped himself in a flag, stood on a C Street NW barricade and energized a mass of Americans at a quarter past three; a freshman on a charter bus pensively wondered whether race relations had forever changed; a Yale professor-poet told the world that many had died for this day, and to say it plain.

Everyone was together; the leader was alive; hope was, too, and a generation was dreaming.


  • Robert '69

    Don't quit school to pursue a writing career just yet, Andrew…

    I expect you'll learn in a few years that, just as 11-22-63 wasn't quite the end of the world, so you'll find 1-20-09 wasn't quite the unmixed blessing some think.

  • Amherst '67

    November 22, 1963, was a terrible, terrible day, Robert '69. January 20, 2009, was a wonderful one.

    You sound like a George W. Bush Yalie from the '60s. Your time is passing.

    Good job, Andrew.

  • anon

    Ugh. I first learned of Mr. Negroponte while taking a class on Latin America my freshman year in 2000. As I read source after source, I was shocked at his cavalier attitude (if not his willing complicity) toward human rights violations in his capacity as ambassador to Honduras. I remember thinking "at least this guy no longer has any power." Of course then Bush comes into office.

    Oh yes, do teach Yalies your Grand Strategy, Ambassador.

  • A. Nony Mouse

    John Negroponte is a fine man and Yale is very fortunate to have him as an alum and a faculty member.

    Irresponsible claims such as "war cominality" in which the left has so freely indulged and intoxicated itself over the past many years will very soon come back to haunt the new administration. For example, the Associated Press reports that President Obama will sign an executive order Thursday keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center going for a year and suspending ongoing trials there for many months. So one more year of "criminality" and "torture" is acceptable? Unnecessary, politically motivated delays in ongoing trials do not abuse the rights of the accused? Who do the Obamoids think they're fooling?

    Many years of bloated rhetoric, empty promises and wild accusations from the left are going to cause them a great deal of pain.

  • Anonymous

    very well written

  • Trumbull 08

    Wonderful piece Andrew. Good job!

  • Anonymous

    Now, now Amherst'67, we don't know that Robert'69 is an ACTUAL George W. Bush Yalie, one who did coke and got straight C's with Bush. He and Bush, however, are a generation that we are thankfully leaving behind to their warmongering, polarized ways of thinking and their parochial policies.

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