WASHINGTON — Arkansans from Siloam Springs to Stuttgart joined hundreds of thousands of Americans on the National Mall to witness the historic second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“It was very inspirational. There were so many people from so many different places with so many different stories but that is America,” said Meagan Bowling, a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Bowling and Tony Jones, a freshman at UAFS, watched the inauguration from just behind the reflecting pool at the base of Capitol Hill standing side by side with thousands of others on a chilly morning. It was the first time either had been to an inauguration ceremony.
“I don’t think any word could do justice to the event,” Jones said. “Everything is just etched into my memory — thinking as a black man of color and the history represented here — and also just being an American and getting to witness first hand what this day represents.”
Bowling said her eyes teared up as Kelly Clarkson sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
“With the flags waving on Capitol Hill, it was very emotional and I was very proud to be here,” Bowling said.
The Inauguration Ceremony followed the traditional pomp and circumstance that comes every four years in America. Obama, for his part, delivered a relatively brief 18-minute address that laid out a vision of unity, equality and prosperity that will need the commitment of the citizenry to be realized.
“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time,” Obama said.
For Garrett Brown and Jasmine Banks, a biracial couple from Siloam Springs, the second inauguration was both affirmation and inspiration for the world they hope their three children will inherit.
“My wife is African-American, and for me it was a very big deal four years ago to have someone elected president who is exactly like my children,” said Brown, a textbook representative. “And, for him to be re-elected shows that it was not a fluke. I think we are moving forward.”
Banks, a freelance writer, said that Obama’s Inaugural Address surpassed her expectations as he urged Americans to provide for the poorest among us and strive for equality for all.
“He said that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident but not self-actualizing. So, we have a responsibility as citizens to participate,” she said.
Michelle Hayward, principal of McNair Junior High School in Fayetteville, traveled to the inauguration with her husband, Jacob Hayward, who is a vice principal at Southwest Junior High School in Springdale. The two videotaped their visit to Washington and plan to share the experience with their students.
“We were a couple hundred yards from the platform but I could zoom in with my camera and see everything. And, there was a television screen directly in front so it was a perfect location,” Jacob Hayward said.
“The energy around the whole place was very positive,” said Michelle Hayward. “We were jam packed together but for the most part people were very helpful to one another and during the music were all singing together.”
Aside from the inauguration, the couple visited Smithsonian Museums and some of the monuments. They were at the Martin Luther King Memorial on Sunday at sunset along with thousands of other tourists.
“It was absolutely beautiful as the sun rays were falling on it perfectly. The crowd was enormous and it was good to watch those parents that brought their children there and the pride they had in the Memorial,” Michelle Hayward said.
Sharon Harris of Pine Bluff said she was blessed with a good seat in front of the reflecting pond and enjoyed listening to Obama’s speech.
“I really liked that he addressed everybody in the county and that people left saying that this is our president,” said Harris, who works for the U.S. Army as an engineer.
Harris was more impressed with the tone of the address than any particular line.
“He just hit all the good points and it was the right length. He addressed so many important things — social security, health care, just everything that he has been talking about all along,” Harris said.
Several Arkansas politicians also attended the ceremony, witnessing from close range the public swearing-in ceremony, including former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
More than 80 members of the U.S. Senate and hundreds of members of the House were seated on the platform constructed on the west side of the Capitol for the event. Among the Arkansas members present were Sens. John Boozman, a Republican, and Mark Pryor, a Democrat, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
“This is an historic occasion, and as a member of Congress I feel it is my duty to attend,” Womack said. His wife, Terri, was also at the inauguration.
Boozman sat next to Utah Sen. Mike Lee during the ceremony.
“This is always a great event,” Boozman said. “It demonstrates the strength of America, this peaceful transfer of power.”
Boozman said he was encouraged that Obama spoke about the need to get past partisan bickering for the sake of the nation and felt that spirit throughout the day.
“As we kind of grouped together in the Senate chamber before going out on the platform there was a lot of camaraderie and looking forward to the new year,” Boozman said.
Boozman’s wife, Cathy, and three daughters also attended the inauguration. His four-month-old granddaughter, Daisy, was left in the able hands of his scheduler Leslie Parker back in his Capitol office, Boozman said.
Pryor sat between Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Idaho Sen. James Risch.
“I thought the event was really good. To me, it struck the right tone of patriotism and the president’s speech wasn’t overly long,” Pryor said.