Fred Burton and his 14-year-old brother, Ben, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands who packed the area near the reflecting pool at the National Mall.
The Mount de Sales Academy students could see only the orchestra and the choir from their positions, but they watched a big screen as Barack Obama was sworn in as president Tuesday. A nearby speaker projected the newly inaugurated president’s words into their ears, while the teens’ parents watched the ceremony on a big screen in the National Museum of the American Indian.
Obama’s words were inspirational, Fred Burton, 17, said in a cell phone call from U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall’s Washington office.
“(Obama) gave us a glimpse of what he was going to do and what could possibly happen if we could work together, and (he) gave us hope for the future,” he said.
Somewhere else around the National Mall, Susan Middleton was listening to those same words.
Middleton, a Bibb County school board member, didn’t have a ticket to the inauguration, but she managed to stake out a space for herself around the Capitol.
“We couldn’t see, but we had a really good speaker that we were right under, so we could hear every word,” she said in a cell phone call.
People were weeping and reciting the Lord’s Prayer together.
“Everyone was very quiet,” she said. “It was almost like you were in church.”
Despite the throngs of unknown faces and chilly temperatures, Middleton said she felt a warm, friendly feeling.
“It was like I was standing with my neighbors,” she said.
Closer to the front, Macon City Councilman Rick Hutto described a similar sentiment as he sat just rows away from director Steven Spielberg and a row away from actress Jessica Alba.
“Think of a raucous family reunion with never-known cousins,” he wrote in a fax to The Telegraph.
For him, the most poignant moment of Obama’s inauguration came as others already had started to leave.
“ ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ stopped them in their tracks as we all began to sing its words. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen, including mine,” he wrote. “So many hopes and dreams ride on the shoulders of this young man. Although he cannot possibly satisfy everyone, at least he gives us the hope that, with our help and that of God, he will try.”
Thomas Young, 12, was supposed to be there. But everything didn’t go according to plan.
“We got to the inauguration, and it turns out the Mall was overflowing with people, and they didn’t have spots left,” said Young, a Mount de Sales student who traveled to Washington with the National Youth Leadership Conference. “We were really disappointed. Everyone was really upset. Some people were crying.”
Instead, the group watched the inauguration on the televisions in their bus.
“We were all quiet, and we were watching really attentively making sure we didn’t miss anything,” Young said. “It turned out to be OK.”
The whole experience was “very interesting,” he said. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.”