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Lila Cooley: Cold and crowds worth the effort

POSTED: January 21, 2009 1:05 a.m.

I’m tired. I’m still cold and shivering despite the fact that I’m sitting in the warmth of a heated house. My nose is running uncontrollably. My voice is hoarse due to a combination of excessive talking and a lack of sleep.

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t want to be in any condition other than the one I’m in right now because of what I got to see today. In case you’re confused, I’ll back up a few hours.

We woke up at 6 a.m. My sister and I dressed, assembling our outfits for the day in accordance with what the weather channel was predicting. Earlier in the week, I signed up to receive weather information via text message. “Update,” the message read. “It is 23 degrees with wind chill of 12 degrees. Forecast is for 29 degrees with a 20 percent chance of snow.”

The climate was one thing we knew we would battle today. Our other adversaries were time and crowds. We knew a combination of these things could easily hold us back from our goal. We also knew that, should we prevail, we would be rewarded with a memory that would outlast all else.

When our taxi dropped us off, we understood that reaching our target would be difficult. What felt like millions — but actually were hundreds — of people milled around us. All had a similar thought: Get in line.
After 10 minutes of searching, we found our place in the line. We could then only move forward when a gap opened in front of us. We continued in this manner of endlessly shuffling forward and stopping, shuffling forward and stopping, anxiously checking the time to see if we would be able to make it or not.

After walking for what seemed like a mile in one-inch increments, we reached the security gate. Twenty metal detectors were set up, police officers accompanying each.

Passing through security, feelings morphed from anxiety to anticipation. We were about to witness history being made from 100 yards away.

The invocation began, music performed and the second in-command sworn in. It was then time for the minute we had all been waiting for.

President-elect Barack Obama took the stage. All fell silent while he took his oath. When the new president of the United States was announced, a feeling swept over the entire crowd. It didn’t take much for the mass to acknowledge the emotion of the moment, as it was summed up by joyous chanting: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

Obama gracefully recognized the audience with his wide-mouthed smile and then began his speech. He spoke of the disheartening conditions of our country and the troubles we are going through.  He admitted that challenges are present and serious. But through all his admissions of setbacks, he managed to convey the hope that he has for our country.

When he concluded his speech with “God bless the United States of America,” the crowd instantly rose to its feet. I turned around to face the roar behind me and saw millions of people waving American flags. That is perhaps one of the most singularly American experiences I have had in my life. Seeing people stand in the cold for hours, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder a mile back from the Capitol building to show their support for the president was awe-inspiring.

The air was cold, the walk was long, and the wind was gusting, but nothing could make me think less of my experience today.

Lila Kate Cooley, 16, is a Gainesville High School junior. She has been writing an online blog for The Times all week; read about her trip at gainesvilletimes.com/inauguration.



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