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Inauguration - From Up Close and Afar

Lainey S. Cronk, January 29, 2009
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From in front of the Capitol to a big-screen TV in the Campus Center, people from PUC watched with interest as the United States welcomed its 44th president.

Of course, most of the students, faculty and staff had to watch the events from afar. Some spent the morning at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, which broadcast the event live, free to the community. Others watched on the big screen in the cafeteria or in the Campus Center.

But several individuals from campus traveled across the country for the event. Aubyn Fulton, professor of psychology, was in D.C. in person with his family. Student Chelse Chavez was there as well by last-minute luck, with former student Adrianne McNaughton; and student Desiree Quijano was present as well.

Fulton and his wife and three children arrived in D.C. Sunday afternoon and caught (from a bit of a distance) the second half of the concert and speakers at the Lincoln Memorial. "The highlight for me was Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing 'This Land is Your Land' which literally took my breath way." On Monday, they participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day service projects.

Tuesday morning the family got up at 5:15 and took the Metro to the Capitol. "It was COLD (I cannot believe people live like that on a regular basis)," Fulton said. "The lines were very long and the crowd was packed very tight, but, unbelievably, everyone was in a good and joyful mood throughout. Everybody helped each other out, nobody could stop smiling." For the group watching at the Capitol, Fulton said, "the most moving moment was when Obama took the oath of office."

Chelse Chavez and her friend were two of 1,500 people in the area who requested inauguration tickets through the office of Congressman Mike Thompson. He only had 198, and they were all taken. But at the last minute, he had two cancellations and gave the tickets to Chavez and McNaughton. The last-minute arrangement meant they had to rush to book flights and ended up staying in three different hotels in Washington, none closer that two miles to the Metro! "It was all one crazy adventure!" Chavez said.

But for her it was well worth it - "the opportunity of a lifetime." She recounts the amazingly positive spirit they met with on the entire trip, the people they met, and the impact of the experience. "Never in my life would I have expected to be in a city surrounded by thousands of people who had one common connection - we were there to witness history and witness change."

Fulton echoed that same sense of community. "From the moment we arrived in New York City … to the flight home to San Francisco … there was such a wave of good feeling and common purpose and hope and identity. Obviously there will be plenty of time for division and disagreement and mistakes - but all weekend we were proud not just to be Americans, but to be part of a circle of common humanity that seemed to be expanding."

 But what struck the deepest chord for Chavez was when she exchanged words with an African American couple rejoicing by the reflecting pool. "We no longer have any excuses in life," the man said. "If we witness something wrong happening in front of us, before we say or do anything we need to stop and ask ourselves and our heart what we can do to make that situation better." That message, Chavez says, is one she wants to pass on. "As Christians, we can take with us this very key point of the advice of this moment, not just for today, but for the rest of our lives. … What we do now and today is not dependent on our president, or government officials. It's dependant on the core of the United States of America, everyday people trying to live a better life not for tomorrow, but for today."