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Inauguration 2013: For attendees, a time for pride, hope, marking history

If the crowd at Inauguration 2013 meets the expectation of 500,000 to 700,000 people, it will be the largest ever at a second public inaugural. Here's how some of those who came see the moment.

By Staff writer / January 21, 2013

President Barack Obama supporters wave American flags on the National Mall in Washington, Monday, prior to the start of President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Washington

Americans flocked to the National Mall on a blue-sky, chilly-but-not-freezing Monday morning, the air electric with anticipation as President Obama prepared for a second public swearing-in and inaugural speech.

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The crowds won’t come close to the crush of humanity that packed the Mall four years ago – 1.8 million people, by various estimations. Any president’s second inauguration, by definition, can’t match the first – even for the first African-American president, whose historic election in 2008 was celebrated the world over.  

In fact, Mr. Obama began his second term on Sunday, with a small swearing-in ceremony at the White House. By tradition, when the constitutionally mandated Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, falls on a Sunday, the big show takes place the next day: another oath-taking at the West front of the Capitol, the inaugural speech, the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the balls.

But don’t sell the 57th Inauguration short. If the crowd meets the expectation of 500,000 to 700,000 people, it will be the largest ever at a second public inaugural, and the fourth largest at any inauguration, behind Obama’s first, President Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965 (1.2 million), and President Bill Clinton’s in 1993 (800,000).

And to many of those in attendance – some of whom traveled from far and wide, many of them African-American or even just plain African – Jan. 21, 2013, is just as meaningful as Jan. 20, 2009, all the more because it is also the holiday celebrating slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. 

“It’s an historical event,” says Felicia John, a lawyer from Benin City in southern Nigeria. “I was unable to attend the last one. This time I felt I cannot fail to attend. I had to be here.”

Obama is so important, Ms. John says, because he’s an African-American. “If he can be president of America, then anybody from any [origin] of the world can,” she says.

Rick Harwood, principal of Global Connections High School in Seattle, was on the Mall with 38 students ages 14 to 18, mostly from low-income families.

“For [the students], the first president they’re aware of is an African-American. This is the first presidency they’re aware of,” Mr. Harwood says. The students raised $62,000 in a month to attend the inauguration. They are part of a wind ensemble here for a festival in honor of the inauguration.

Why did the students wish to travel all the way across the country to attend? “The last [presidential] debate [between Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney] was about being rich and poor – the president representing what it takes to support people who are struggling,” says Harwood.

One of the students, Amanda Saeteurn, sold books to help earn the money to come. The reason she wanted to come is “change.” “Obama has made a lot of changes, and they will take time to take effect,” she says.

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