Front Row Seat to History
An inauguration of any sort marks a beginning, a time of change. In January, an estimated 1.8 million people descended upon Washington, D.C., to take part in the inauguration of the country's 44th president. Barack Obama shattered more than 200 years of history when he became the first black man to serve as the nation's leader. Witnessing the significant moment were Cobbers, including the eight whose stories follow:
Shortly after Claire Kuttler '06 started working on a master's degree in opera performance at the University of Maryland, she filled a professional soprano opening in the choir at St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, in Washington, D.C. Nicknamed "Church of the Presidents," the parish hosted the morning prayer service on Inauguration Day. The St. John's Choir performed three pieces. Kuttler sang the solo in an arrangement of "This Little Light of Mine."
"It was one of the greatest privileges and proudest musical moments of my life," she says. "Even had I not been involved in the inauguration in such a special way, it was an overwhelming moment for our country. I think it was a huge step forward in fighting a battle of exclusion that has been raging for generations."
Jake B. Johnson '11, Rosemount, Minn., interned with the Minnesota DFL Party during the campaign and in early January was offered two tickets to the swearing-in ceremony from Rep. Collin Peterson's office. He and Marisa Paulson '11, Langdon, N.D., drove to Washington, D.C., to join the throngs. "There are all these people in front of you, behind you and next to you, marching to the inauguration. Everybody was there for a common reasons," Paulson says.
The couple stood for six hours in the cold to watch a JumboTron as Obama took the oath of office. After the ceremony, they talked with a three-generation family from Atlanta and a peer from Chicago, all of whom were black. All of them said they never expected to see a black president elected in their lifetimes. "It didn't hit me how big of a deal this was until I started talking to people. For me, it was a piece of history. For others, it was very personal," Johnson says.
Nathan Heegaard '11, Minneapolis, didn't have a ticket to the big event. But as a participant in the Lutheran College Washington Semester, he was too close to the action to not become part of the crowd. He spent the night before Inauguration Day downtown. The next morning, it took him three hours to walk three blocks because of the crowds. "When Obama was sworn in, and when he spoke, the entire city erupted. People were cheering, applauding, crying and laughing. It was a place filled with emotions," he says.
Frigid temperatures numbed the toes and fingers of the 120 members of the Fergus Falls (Minn.) Marching Band, but it couldn't touch their enthusiasm. Led by Scott Kummrow '03, Jim Iverson '77 and Denise Weise, the band performed “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” all perfectly timed so they even sang a few lines while marching past the president, vice president and their families. "In the end, it was perfect. Everything was where it needed to be. I'm in awe of what they did," Kummrow says. The experience also brought some Concordia ties full circle for Kummrow and Iverson. Dr. Russ Pesola, now retired, played in Lyndon B. Johnson's 1963 inaugural parade.
Read about the students' trip to the inauguration.
The Marching Utes from the University of Utah were performing at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans when they received an invitation to march in the Inaugural Parade –two weeks away. After a last-minute scramble for travel funds and home stays, the 140-member band played "God Bless America" as they marched in front of the Obamas and Bidens. Scott Hagen '77, director of the university's bands and, coincidentally, a Concordia classmate of Iverson's, carried the banner. "It only lasts a minute, but to have the president of the United States and his wife nod and wave at you … that doesn't happen every day," Hagen says.
Josh Lies '96 stood within 40 feet of the new president but never caught more than a glimpse of him. Lies is a trumpet player and technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Band Ceremonial Brass, which plays at many formal political events in D.C. He listened to Obama's swearing-in by radio while sitting on a bus. He marched in the parade and, hours later, played an arrangement of Etta James' "At Last" during the final ball of the Obamas' evening. "We played the last dance for them and Obama mentioned something about that. I thought, here's a moment I can remember: I played the last dance of his first inauguration," Lies says.
Story: Erin Hemme Froslie / Photos: Submitted