Students rise early, brave cold to join millions witnessing history on National Mall

For some, it was the reason they came to GW. For others, it was just about being a part of history.

Hatchet Video: The Inauguration

GW students fought through packed streets and battled heavy security to catch a glimpse of President Barack Obama’s swearing-in Tuesday afternoon on the National Mall. The inauguration of the nation’s first black president, the largest event in D.C. history, drew crowds estimated at 2 million people.

“We wanted to get good seats and really just be in the middle of everything,” said freshman Caitlin Summers, who arrived to the Mall at 4:45 a.m. Security checkpoints to enter the mall opened at 4 a.m., but many people had lined up beforehand.

Summers had no qualms about the conditions she had to endure to witness the inauguration.

“People were saying they didn’t want to go because it was cold or too early, but this is a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “It’s history in the making, so you might as well be a part of it.”

Armed with coffee, ham sandwiches and magazines, D.C. native Becca Fairfield said she made sure to arrive as early possible.”

“I got here before the sun was up,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I was in the best seat, or standing area, in the house.”

Many inauguration-watchers had to take alternate routes to the Capitol due to road closures and security restrictions around the area. Even more of them packed into crowded Metro trains – which set a new record for ridership on Tuesday – to join the throngs on the Mall.

Several security checkpoints were stationed outside the ticketed area on the Mall, but the majority of spectators were instead treated to on-the-fly security sweeps. Though it was logistically impossible to check every person on the Mall, there was still a heavy security presence on the lawn.

The excitement of the day was overshadowed by frustration for a few thousand ticket-holders who were blocked from entering the ticketed area by security officials, prompting chants of “Let us in!”

“We were there around 9 [a.m.],” senior Josephine Nguyen said. “We came late, assuming having tickets would give us space.”

The Joint Congressional Committee on Presidential Inaugurations released a statement Wednesday apologizing to the denied guests, saying that space estimates were miscalculated.

“It was really frustrating, people were angry … Police weren’t talking and there was no staff to tell us what was going on,” Nguyen said.

After waiting for nearly three hours, Nguyen and her friends left and went to a bar to watch the speech.

As Obama was sworn in and began his inaugural address, scenes from the Mall became emotional.

The crowd, which was chanting and waving flags throughout the morning, appeared nearly silent throughout the majority of Obama’s address, with the exception of occasional bursts of cheering. During Pastor Rick Warren’s invocation, many could be seen praying or crying.

“When Barack was giving his speech, I heard a man behind me, on the phone, describing the event and this man got choked up,” said D.C. resident Jackson Nickel. “This got me pretty emotional.”

Not everyone was up to the challenge of tackling the crowds on the Mall, and several on-campus viewing locations provided an alternative. Maureen Ryan, director of administration for the School of Media and Public Affairs building, said about 50 people watched Obama take the oath of office from the warmth of the Jack Morton Auditorium.

“A few of them asked if they could stay to watch the parade, so we decided to leave it open,” Ryan said.

Despite crushing crowds, below-freezing temperatures and long hours, most students interviewed found Jan. 20 to be an unforgettable part of their college careers, unique to a university located in the heart of D.C.

Freshman Richard Livingston deemed the presidential inauguration “the pivotal GW experience.”

Becky Reeves, Alexi Dagan, Emily Cahn, Alli Hoff, Jennifer Tchinnosian and Lauren French contributed to this report.

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