At 9:01 PST, I was sitting in a crowded auditorium full of enthusiastic urban middle-schoolers. The teachers and students had managed to project live feed of the day's events onto a large screen, but all the traffic had crashed the school district's servers, so everyone had to squint to focus on the two old-fashioned (rabbit-ears) televisions that flanked the stage. A giant boom-box broadcasted the NPR feed into the room, but there was a seven-second delay so the sound never matched the pictures. The stage was piled with red, white, and blue balloons, and streamers decorated the giant screen, which showed a slideshow of the Obamas some teacher had thoughtfully created as "plan B."
A voice on the radio, interrupting the lovely musical tribute, mentioned that President Bush's term was officially over, even though inauguration proceedings were behind schedule. The adults near the TV burst into cheers, which soon took over the whole room. Moments before, Joe Biden had been sworn in, and I had naughtily cupped my hands and shouted "No More Cheney!" Moments later, Obama takes the oath of office, and the custodian is out of her chair, dancing like we all feel like dancing. When he says, "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off..." I am thinking about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Before the day is over I will have started a booster club to manage all the volunteers that will soon pour into this school (hopefully).
The principal (scary lady) gets up to tell the students what a significant day this is, and invites them to write a note to send to the president. She tells them about their special history-class assignment to write down all their impressions of the day, which will be collected, copied, laminated, and sent home for them to stick under their mattresses for the rest of their lives. When she announces that second period has been cancelled, the crowd really goes wild. That's even better news, for them, than a new clear-headed, idealistic, and--did anyone notice?--African American president. When she tells them they still have to go to third period, the boos and hand gestures of the mini-mob scene are even louder.
We've come a long way, America... but we've still got a long way to go.