By Geoffrey A. Cooper
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Students from Virginia Commonwealth University and colleges and high schools throughout the country were among the hundreds of thousands of spectators who heard President Barack Obama, in his second inaugural address, call on Americans to work together.
In a public ceremony Monday, Obama stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building to take the oath of office. Gray skies and icy, blistering winds loomed over the National Mall as spectators packed tightly and inched forward to get a view of the president.
The crowd included many college students, including some from VCU.
Brittney Geathers, vice president of hospitality for VCU Young Democrats, said her excursion to Washington was pleasant and that she wasn’t overwhelmed by the large crowds.
The 20-year-old business junior said she did well keeping up with the swarm of tourists, and that she noticed many who bought plenty of souvenirs and keepsakes to document the festivities.
“Everyone was in cheerful spirit,” Geathers said.
By 11:30 a.m., thousands of people flooded the intersection of Constitution Avenue Northwest and Third Street Northwest to head to the Capitol Reflecting Pool section to listen to Obama’s remarks.
Geathers said she admired Obama’s calm, eloquent demeanor during his address. She said the president firmly stated his positions on issues dear to her, such as protecting gay rights, passing tougher gun laws, reforming the banking system and ending the war in Afghanistan.
A group of more than 70 students and teachers from Taylor High School in Cincinnati were part of the crowd. To stay in sight – and to keep warm – students and teachers from the school wore gold ski caps.
Advanced Placement government and history classes traveled from their school in Ohio to Washington to view Obama’s second inaugural address. AP government teacher Michael Voynovich said his students visited monuments and other sites in the Washington area but were mostly pumped about seeing Obama in person.
Voynovich enjoyed the president’s words but worries that the friction between the White House and Congress could hurt Obama’s second term.
“If we can’t work together, then no issue is going to stand out,” Voynovich said. “When they collaborate, there’s nothing they can’t do. The people will be behind them. If they can’t work together, then it sends a message to the people that there are struggles in government and that the people deserve better.”
Obama’s address lasted about 19 minutes. “Our journey is not complete,” he declared, calling for a sharper focus on middle-class and poverty-stricken families nationwide – two groups that continue to suffer from a weak economy.
“Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” Obama said.
“We believe that America’s prosperity must rely upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.”
Curbing gun violence, shoring up Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and addressing the nation’s ongoing debt crisis remain top priorities for the Obama administration in his second term.
“For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said.
The president will have support in Congress from U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat elected last fall to represent Virginia.
In Washington’s Lafayette Square district on Sunday afternoon, Kaine spoke briefly about his personal excitement surrounding Obama’s second inauguration.
“It’s an exciting weekend. We’re really thrilled to be here for the inauguration,” Kaine said, walking side-by-side with his wife, Anne Holton. “So many come just because it’s a part of American history … It’ll be good to spend some time with Virginians.”
Despite the fanfare surrounding the inauguration, Kaine turned serious as he discussed the issues facing the 113th Congress.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Kaine said. “Virginians show that you can be Democrat and Republican and work together. … If I bring any … motivation to the Senate, it’s: Let’s try and build more bridges, find common ground.”