Since I got back to Columbia early Wednesday morning, I’ve had some time to think about the significance of what I’ve witnessed.
The inauguration wasn’t just a peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next, it was the result of a national movement – the likes of which this country has never seen before. Young people, once overlooked and underrepresented, led the charge for a campaign for the ultimate political underdog. Spreading messages of unity, hope and change, the ‘apathetic generation’ convinced the rest of the country to put their trust in a junior senator from Illinois.
Never before has the past presidency cast such a huge shadow on the incoming one. With two wars, an economy in shambles and American leadership in doubt, people weren’t just looking for a president, they were looking for a leader. Barack Obama, the “scrawny kid with a funny name,” came to this race light on accomplishments but heavy on hope. After eight years of fumbling, America has found its leader.
Of course, the election of the first African-American president is monumental. The civil rights movement is not over, by any stretch of the imagination, but this is the biggest step towards equality since Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his “dream” atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial over 40 years ago. America’s past of racism and hate isn’t something to be proud of, but it’s astounding how far we’ve come. What a country we live in.
There will always be dissenters, but the fact remains: Barack unified this country like no one else could. As I stood on the National Mall, alongside millions more, frozen from head to toe, I felt warm inside. We weren’t the only ones celebrating, millions around the world rejoiced the return of an America that welcomes collaboration, sparks friendships and supports freedom for all. Let it be known: America is back.