Members of the Mills community witnessed history on Tue. Jan 20 when they traveled to Washington D.C. to see Barack Obama sworn in as 44th president of the United States.
President Janet Holmgren, Dean of Students Joi Lewis, and former Director of the Women’s Leadership Institute Daphne Muse as well as at least 10 Mills students joined in the inauguration festivities.
Out of the group, only Holmgren got to see the inauguration in person. She was seated not far from the podium.
“Obama’s speech was amazing,” Holmgren said. She was so blown away by the inauguration that she cried as soon as Aretha Franklin sang before the president was sworn in. This is the second presidential inauguration Holmgren has been to, the first being Jimmy Carter’s in 1973.
Students who went to the inauguration as part of the Mills contingency, like junior Steffi Zarifis and Mills graduate Tracy Peerson, woke up as early as 2 a.m. to go to the festivities. They were among the first people to get on the Metro train and waited for hours in 18-degree weather to see Obama.
When they could not get in to see the inauguration, the students sought warmth inside the National Museum of the American Indian and watched the event on big screens.
Peerson said it was sometimes hard to see, but she always knew what was going on. When former President George W. Bush was leaving, the crowd sang “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
Another Mills student reported a similar experience of crowd support. First year graduate student Maya Chinchilla went to Washington D.C. to perform in People for the President, a performance and visual arts production.
She watched the inauguration on a big screen at the Washington Monument. Chinchilla said that the crowd felt like being in a “political Disney Land” because people were selling merchandise like T-shirts and buttons.
“They had one guy selling Obama earrings, and he’d shout ‘Inaugurate your ears!'” she said.
She said that she felt amazed that so many people of different generations, ethnicities and backgrounds were gathered in one place. She said the experience is a reminder that the inauguration is “not about one man; it’s about the people, about change.”
Social change is important to Peerson. She had been feeling down since Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, was passed. She said she could not fully celebrate Obama’s win in Oakland after the decision, so she and others fundraised to see the event in person.
Peerson and friends wore Freedom to Marry slogans on their Obama beanies as a way to support their cause.
She saw Obama as being a step closer to freedom: “It was the first time I felt proud of this country again.”
Lewis also felt proud. She wrote a spoken word piece about her experiences at the inauguration and performed it in the Student Union on Jan. 27.
“Today, I became an American,” she began and then sang part of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”.
Her work described the inequalities of America and how, after Obama is elected, “We have a new formula for success.”
Lewis watched the inauguration with her coworker, Muse, at Muse’s brother’s house. She did not mind not seeing Obama in person.
“We’re all together, we’re all watching the same thing,” she said.
Muse donated several inauguration themed items to Mills College, including the inaugural edition of the Washington Post, a Veteran’s Jazz Brunch announcement, and a spreadsheet of 125 events.
Later, she will give a photo of Obama swearing in Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
Muse also donated a green scarf with Obama written on it to the ethnic studies department. Muse hopes the department can auction it.
Peerson and others are creating a documentary of the Mills contingency’s experiences. She hopes that the finished film will play April 4, 2009.