Historic inauguration calls for unity and peace

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Photo by Sammy Salz

At home watching Vice President Kamala Harris swearing in new senators during the 2021 inauguration

On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris assumed office after a historic inauguration ceremony. Despite the limited crowd and heightened security in response to the events of Jan. 6, the inaugural proceedings carried on smoothly and relatively normal. 

This event not only marked the inauguration of the 46th administration and the turnover of Senate control to the Democratic Party, but also the inauguration of the first female, Black, and Asian-American Vice President in our nation’s history.

“The most significant thing about [the inauguration] was Harris,” said WHS Social Studies Teacher Daniel Farabaugh. “Whenever a member of a previously oppressed and continuously oppressed group ascends to high office, it’s a significant thing. People often dismiss the importance of representation and having access, and usually, the people who do that are used to being represented and having access.”

Early on in the ceremony, Vice President Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor using the Bible of Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of her greatest political influences. Later, President Biden was sworn in using a 19th century Bible that has been in his family for over 120 years.

While President Trump was not present at the inauguration, Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence attended the inauguration in place of Trump’s informal farewell ceremony that had taken place immediately prior. Pence was joined by other notable Republican leaders such as Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, along with Former President George W. Bush and Former First Lady Laura Bush. 

Also in attendance were Former President Barack Obama and Former President Bill Clinton, Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, as well as members of Congress, several Supreme Court Justices, and family and friends of Biden and Harris.

Also, as per tradition, Biden spoke directly to both the crowd at the ceremony and the Americans watching at home by delivering his inaugural address. Widely regarded as one of the most important speeches that a president must deliver in their lifetime, President Biden used his inaugural address to stress how he will promote national unity throughout his time in office. In doing so, Biden hopes to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the global climate crisis, racial injustice, economic inequality, healthcare reform and various other issues with the American people behind him.

“My whole soul was in it today,” said President Biden in his address. “On this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

Biden’s message of togetherness resonated with many students at WHS, including junior Molly Reilly, who said, “I was able to listen to [Biden’s] inaugural address, and was in shock at how much he was able to address without glossing over anything. He projected a positive outlook on the future with him and Harris in power, and I believed him.”

Seeing a young person up there reminded me of the power our generation has and the things we will accomplish.”

— WHS senior Cat Valencia

Another highlight from the ceremony was a reading of an original poem titled “The Hill We Climb”  by Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman, the youngest National Poet Laureate in American history. 23-year-old Gorman’s poem echoed many of the themes underscored in President Biden’s inaugural address such as the importance of unity and strength during this divisive time in our history. 

“[Gorman’s] words reminded me that so much is possible in this country and that despite the darkness of the last four years, we will come together stronger,” said WHS senior Cat Valencia. “Seeing a young person up there reminded me of the power our generation has and the things we will accomplish.”

In addition to Gorman’s poem was a performance of the national anthem by Lady Gaga, a performance of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” by Jennifer Lopez and speeches from political and religious figures such as Senator Amy Klobuchar and Reverend Silvester Beaman. 

To WHS senior William Fiorentino, one of the most memorable moments from the inauguration ceremony was Garth Brooks’ performance of “Amazing Grace.” Fiorentino said, “It seemed important that Biden chose Garth Brooks, who is a Republican, to perform ‘Amazing Grace.’ Although Brooks was criticized by some of his conservative base for the performance, I hope that Biden’s [choice] is a sign of more unifying actions to come.”

Unfortunately, however, many students had to watch this ceremony in pieces or wait until later to watch a recording because it took place during school hours. 

“As the uncertainty continue[d] about how events [would] unfold, it was not recommended that classes watch the inauguration live, rather teachers could ask students to watch portions of the proceedings and respond to some reflective questions, followed by a class discussion in the days following the inauguration,” said Andrea Brennan, Supervisor of Social Studies for Westfield Public Schools.

According to Farabaugh, these discussions did take place in social studies classrooms both before and after the inauguration. In his classes, Farabaugh made sure to give students time to talk about and reflect upon the significance of the inauguration following the Capitol insurrection that took place just two weeks earlier, as well as the symbolic importance of inaugurations for our democracy as a whole.

Despite the fact that many WHS students were able to learn about the inauguration through these class discussions, some believe that viewing the event live would have been the best way to learn from it. Valencia said, “While school is important, I think that [the inauguration] was just more important. It’s literally the future of our country and we should be allowed to watch it happen.”

Whether people were able to watch it live, watch it in pieces or watch it later in the evening, for many, this day provided hope for a future that is stronger, brighter and more united.

Echoing this sense of optimism in her inaugural poem, Gorman said, “If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.