“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.
For others, Obama’s second inauguration is a chance to see history again – only with better weather and room to breathe. Suzanne Dempsey, a special education teacher in Frederick, Md., who came to the first inauguration, allowed as how she didn’t have to get up so early to get a decent spot.
“I wanted to feel that wonderful energy again,” Ms. Dempsey says.
Dennis Rutledge, a middle-aged African-American man from D.C. (but born in Alabama, he emphasizes) was excited to see the president walk through the door of St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House Monday morning for the preinaugural service.
“I’m on a high,” said Mr. Rutledge.
He came four years ago, but it was so crowded around the White House he just "smelled the air" and left. This time he wanted to make sure he saw the president, so he got a primo seat on the concrete barrier by St. John's.
Judy Garth, from suburban Virginia, volunteered for the president in that critical battleground state – she was “terrified” Mr. Romney would win, she says – and decided she had to see the inauguration, which she didn’t do four years ago.