INAUGURAL TRAVELER FINDS HOPE FOR AMERICA
The Slate - Shippensburg University's weekly newspaper
February 1, 1977
It was around 7 am as I sleepily found a seat with my two young sons on one of the five Shippensburg State College student buses headed for the Presidential inauguration in Washington.
Questions and thoughts began awakening me as I watched each pair of eyes search for a seat. What were they thinking? The year 1976 was such a whirlwind, the first Presidential election after Watergate; the Republican and Democratic conventions running neck and neck with the Olympics; Carter, running all the way on hope and just making it ahead at the finish line; and all within the setting of the country's exploding Bicentennial celebration.
I began talking with these eager, knowledgeable, young people as they headed to add a live historical experience to their knowledge. As we talked, I was interested to learn that the group was mostly made up of students majoring in elementary education, government or social welfare.
The students were soberly optimistic about the next four years and were realistically aware that the term may have its dangers. They all agreed that anything could happen, with the assassinations of the 60s still etched in their minds. The hope was strong in them, though, as they talked about what the new President might accomplish.
The group was a happy one and a delight to be with. Their quick eyes detected everything of interest that passed by the bus windows. Their witful comments made the ride speed by. As the bus paused for a light on Constitution Avenue, cheers rolled through from end to end as each one caught sight of a pretty, slight, fully uniformed police woman at the wheel of a police car full of robust policemen.
We arrived! Some of us had the good heads to get tickets to enter the Capitol gates. Others stood outside, including me. We even forgot to bring my son's invitation. I wasn't sorry, though, for there was much to see among those thousands of outside people.
We climbed the icy steps of what looked to be a law building to get a better view. The day was bright and clear but cold. An Indonesian family sat huddled on an icy step in a sleeping bag.
Another man was wrapped in a green blanket.
A well-dressed man wore a plastic bag over his head with a hole cut at his mouth.
Men were shouting and holding up hats and gloves for sale. Steam poured forth from thermoses. Newsmen were in and out, getting their captions.
It was 11 a.m. when the band struck up the first song, "Praise the Lord." This triggered the young boys and girls to scramble into the trees. One girl looked ready to join them but her mother held fast to her pigtails.
The people, as they stood around with their banners and signs stating their ideals and prides, were happy but not jubilant. They were hopeful, but somewhat reserved. There was peace and a disarming trust everywhere.
In front of us, young men walked up and down with a sign saying "Stop Nuclear Weapons and Power." In back of us, a man quietly wore his sign of "Total Amnesty."
All kinds of "Home State" banners waved. Even a figure of Abraham Lincoln turned out, looking so real that everywhere he stood people asked him to pose for a picture.
It was a few minutes until noon and "America the Beautiful" was filling our ears. Everyone was silent now as the Presidential swearing in took place. That man we chose stood earnestly on the Capitol balcony in what looked to be his traditional green. The only distraction of the moment was the shield he stood behind, and the gunned guards standing on each nearby roof reminding us of the all too real problems of our society.
Then the distraction left our minds as our new President's words echoed back to us. Words such as: "Spiritual strength of our Nation;" "love and mercy to all;" "a new beginning and spirit;" "learn, laugh, work, and pray together;" "to be true to ourselves we must be true to others:" "we will work to eliminate nuclear weapons on this earth;" "pledge perseverance;" "cannot be indifferent."
As I looked around me the faces seemed to have an attitude of introspection, the realization of the littleness of one man to do all and the awareness of the nitty-gritty of each ones own responsibility.
It was like the bottom beginning instead of the usual climax. We left the grounds thinking this man will hear if we will speak.
Our steps quickened as we headed for the parade. Many of us stopped off at the open legislators' buildings to thaw and to eat. The lobbies were like picnic grounds as people sat on the floor near the heaters and opened their box lunches.
Friendliness was most prevalent as people warmed their toes in the sunny spots. IN spite of the crowds there was no disorder anywhere, just friendly warmth.
Highly refreshed, we set off again for the parade. Everyone was smiling. Three well-dressed middle-aged business-type men handed us a camera asking one of us to take their picture in front of the Commerce of Labor sign. Click, and we were on our way again as they waved a thank you.
The parade was upon us now, and true to his ideals the President and his family stepped out of the limousine and walked with the rest of us.
All the while, a big peanut with a Jimmy Carter head walked along the sidewalk. Tiers of unicyclists equipped with a crutched participant showed this was a celebration that nothing could stop.
The next hours were a sight to behold; a patriotic Mardi gras spiced with circus overtones. The fifty states sported floats and bands. Tennessee's barn and square dancers and a real chicken perched on its roof; South Carolina's smoking train; Alaska's Husky dog team, and Georgia's peanut balloon.
Our Pennsylvania float was a source of pride, with its two eagles and the words "Committed to the Spirit of a New America" moving to the rhythm of Shippensburg's own College Raiders.
Even Colonel Lindberg's first plane, the Curtiss J N-4 "Jenny" was there.
The students couldn't see much of the Inaugural Ceremony from where they stood and didn't catch other details of the day, such as Amy stopping to tie her shoe in front of the parade. Some even had to jump up to see the parade over the heads of the people. Nevertheless they learned a whole lot that day about the very real presence of America and the ever flow and exchange of ideas among its every walk of people as they stood among signs and comments that they agreed of disagreed with.
I thought as I took notes on the bus, "How lucky I am to be able to decide in a moment to write a newspaper article about my surroundings and be free to do it."
What a wealth we have here if we will use it. Let's "Keep Freedom Ringing."