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Nichols: Inaugural images show our unity to the world

POSTED: February 9, 2009 1:00 a.m.

When I was 13 years old, I visited Washington, D.C., with my grandparents as guests in my great-aunt's home in Arlington, Va.

I had a very small camera and took my first serious pictures of the White House, U.S. Capitol, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and other buildings. The pictures were printed about two inches square. I have always treasured them, even though many have faded over the years.

The inauguration of President Barack Obama was a photographic event with pomp and ceremony caught by tens of thousands cameras in the hands of the nearly 2 million people who jammed the National Mall for the ceremony. Television flashed pictures of the events for the entire nation and people in many other parts of the world to see.

In my mind's memory, I think three particular parts of the day keep coming up for me to think about.
The first was the swearing-in ceremony, which was a few minutes late after the noon time scheduled. Obama looked confident and happy to become president after his two-year quest for the post, and the history-making factor as being our first African-American president. Michelle was radiant and obviously proud of her husband.

Everything went smoothly until Chief Justice John Roberts got a few words out of order in the required oath taken from our Constitution. I was surprised that the chief justice could be nervous with so many people all over the world watching, so nervous that he made a mistake in giving the oath.

That mistake was the only one that I could see in an otherwise perfect inauguration.

The mistake reminded me of a room in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. That building is a 42-story skyscraper on a hill top in Pittsburgh. On the ground floor classrooms are decorated in different cultural styles.

In one room with an Arabic décor, the tour guide pointed out a place where the beautiful pattern of tiles had an obvious mistake. Because they believe only Allah can be perfect, Arab artisans always purposely put a mistake in a detail when constructing a building because man can never be perfect.

So our chief justice was human and imperfect. He repeated the oath the next day without any mistake so our president was placed into office legally.

A second major image from that day showed the huge crowd of people who jammed the mall. They were mostly Americans and a few foreigners who wanted to be part of that historic day. The television cameras played over all those people, listening intently to the president.

Most of them waved little flags. I have never seen 2 million people acting as one.

We have a government of, by and for the people. So many people so close together: rich, poor, movie stars and average people, black, white, young and old.

We are one people. Those in the mall that cold January day represented our unity better than any other event any time in the history of our nation's capitol.

A third highlight of the day came in the evening with 10 inaugural balls. At the very first ball, our new president was splendid in white tie and moved with athletic grace. But the evening belonged to Michelle.

She is 5-feet-11 inches tall. Her high heels added another three inches. She and Barack were thus equal in height. Her off-shoulder white evening dress was perfect for the occasion. She was confident and radiant at the same time.

They danced, obviously in love with each other. One shot of them dancing had Beyonce singing "At Last" in the distance, maybe 100 feet away.

The day was certainly one of the best days to show to the rest of the world that our new president, his wife and daughters, and also the vice president and his wife and family, all have a style and grace equal that of any other political leaders in the world.

We do not have a monarch. We do not need one. We have our president and his wife and family. And we freely elected our chief of state who represents the best in the American way of life.

We chose well. I am proud of the pictures our country sent out to the rest of the world. We really are a land of opportunity, love and beauty.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His columns appear regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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