Inside USD

Inauguration Attendees Relish Historic Moment

Friday, January 30, 2009

John Schlichtman cried. Del Dickson was impressed with the tone of the speech. Christy Bergheim shared an unforgettable teaching moment with her 9-year-old son. Chris Nayve believed it was a “rebirth” for the United States.

Members of the University of San Diego community who attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama looked back this week at the emotions and experiences of Jan. 20 as they watched from the National Mall.

Schlichtman and his wife, Monique, had a ticket for the inauguration ceremony and the Congressional Black Caucus gala. Schlichtman said the opening prayer, delivered by Rick Warren, a pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., was his favorite part of the ceremony.

“It was actually the only time I cried,” Schlichtman said. “And I cried because I fully sensed that most of the two million people there were truly petitioning God to strengthen and protect this remarkable man in this tumultuous time. There was an overwhelming sense of unity in that prayer.”

Dickson, a political science professor, had a purple ticket to attend the inauguration ceremony. Political Science professors J. Michael Williams and Casey Dominguez, and 35 USD students were also present, part of a three-week Intersession class to the nation’s capital that focused on the press and the presidency. The trip featured visits to historic monuments, meetings with media veterans such as Ted Koppel, Bob Schieffer and USD alumnus Peter Kiley ’85, vice president of affiliate relations for C-SPAN, and finally, attendance at the inauguration.

One thing that stood out for Dickson was the tone of Obama’s speech.

“It was not a speech designed to move the crowd, the nation or history. It was a quiet, modest speech about his priorities for the next four years,” he said. “While listening to it, I was a little disappointed and the crowd was visibly unmoved, remaining quiet throughout the course of the speech. But the more I thought about it afterwards, the more I came to appreciate the strength of underplaying the moment. President Obama could have thundered like a revival preacher and gotten the crowd stirred up and excited, but instead he chose to talk to us as equals, one citizen to another. His speech will never be carved in marble, but it was a fine speech and it fit the moment perfectly.”

inaug1Christina Bergheim, who works in the School of Business Administration’s undergraduate career services, attended her second inauguration ceremony — the first was Bill Clinton’s in 1997 — but this time she went with her son (pictured, at the ceremony). They had silver tickets. Christy said getting to the National Mall area was an adventure, but after walking five long miles — and a quick stop to get warm in a church along the way — they arrived and were very happy.

“It was a long walk in the cold weather, but once we got there, it started to sink in for Andrew that he was there for an historic moment. He said, ‘Mom, I can’t believe we’re here. I want to come back every time,’” Bergheim recalled. “Everyone was so happy. The (weather) conditions were harsh, but there were so many people in good spirits, it was a party-like atmosphere.”

When Obama was sworn in, Bergheim said, it was the first of many emotional moments. “After that, the tears flowed. Families of people hugged each other. I was hugging Andrew like a maniac.”

Christy’s husband, David Bergheim, director of marketing for the School of Business Administration also traveled to the East Coast, but watched the inauguration with his parents at their Alexandria, Va., home. “It was pretty special for him, too,” Christy said. “David’s father marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery so he got to watch the swearing in of the first African-American president with him.”

inaug2Chris Nayve, associate director for the Center of Community Service Learning, and his wife, Christina, didn’t have a ticket, but still joined the masses who were present for a piece of history.

“Just being with all the people, the energy was high and everyone was in such great spirits,” said Nayve, who arrived at the National Mall at 4:30 a.m.

Nayve (pictured the morning of the ceremony) said he felt Obama’s speech was reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. “It said this is a renewal, a rebirth, because the people can be involved in government again because government is the people. Tough times require people to be tough, committed and that we’re all in this together!”

Schlichtman, Dickson, Bergheim and Nayve each said that attending the inauguration was something special. It was a time for hope and change, two words Obama used often during his campaign.

Schlichtman said the emotional attachment from the inauguration compared to his experience when living in New York in the aftermath of 9/11: “After 9/11, all New Yorkers were family. In D.C., all Americans were family and all global visitors were friends. I think it will be marked as a day when many things were redefined. Most specifically, patriotism was redefined.”

Said Dickson: “I’ll tell … stories about the cold and about the crowds, about how the Potomac was frozen solid, about a day that started out dark and bitterly cold and slowly became sunny and clear. I’ll tell stories about 2 million people walking together in the dark to the Capitol to witness history. The inauguration was a landmark in American history that can only be matched once in the years to come, by the first women to be elected president. What we tell future generations will depend a great deal on what happens in the next four years. The inauguration was undeniably a great landmark in American history. It is too early to say whether it will also be a turning point in our history; that story is only just beginning to unfold. But I was there when the story began — and I’ll bore everyone I know to death about it.”

Bergheim said her son, who has taken a big interest in presidential history throughout the 2008 campaign, will reflect on the moment proudly: “Knowing Andrew, when he thinks back to this event it’s going to be big bragging rights for the rest of his life. He’ll be one of those obnoxious grandfathers saying ‘I was at the inaugural of the first black president and I walked there and braved the cold.’ He’ll probably re-tell that story into his dementia. It definitely left an impression on him. It sparks his interest in American history. I think he really felt it. During Obama’s speech he kept looking at me and said, ‘This is an historic speech.’ He was really taking it in, the history of it all.”

Said Nayve: “I hope I’m able to tell my son that his mother and I remember the day we were able to see how this president helped us renew our commitment to America. That it was a time that people were promised a chance to participate and that promise was fulfilled.”

— By Ryan T. Blystone

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