After a tense election, followed by opposition from outgoing President Donald Trump and his supporters, Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris began their first term as president and vice president on Wed, Jan. 20.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and concerns of another event like the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the inauguration committee was tasked with creating a smaller, safer celebration.
Security at the event was top priority, with over 25,000 members of the National Guard on duty for the inaugural ceremony and many areas of downtown Washington fenced off.
Tickets for the ceremony were limited and a public art exhibition on the National Mall took the place of the usual crowds.
The 59th Presidential Inauguration began with a prayer service at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, the Catholic church where President John F. Kennedy’s funeral was held. Bishop William J. Barber II delivered the homily, joined by musical guests: Josh Groban, Patti Labelle and the Clark Sisters.
The Inaugural ceremonies began at about 10:30 a.m. Lady Gaga sang the national anthem, followed by a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” performed by Jennifer Lopez.
The event went on to welcome Amanda Gorman, who recently became the first national youth poet laureate. Gorman read an original piece entitled “The Hill We Climb”. Country artist Garth Brooks also contributed to the celebration with his performance of “Amazing Grace”.
The new president and vice president were sworn in shortly before 12 p.m. Vice President Kamala Harris was delivered the oath of office by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court.
Harris was sworn in using a Bible that had belonged to Supreme Court justice and icon of the Civil Rights Movement, Thurgood Marshall.
As vice president Harris is the highest-ranking woman in United States history. She is also the first black person and first person of South Asian descent to hold the office.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the oath to Biden, who was sworn in using his family’s 128-year-old Bible.
President Biden completed the oath of office at 11:48 a.m., with his term officially beginning at noon (the 20th Amendment states that “terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of Jan.”).
Post-inaugural events followed, including the traditional “Pass in Review,” a ceremony that reflects the transfer of power to the incoming president.
The historic day finished with a primetime special hosted by actor Tom Hanks. President Biden and Vice President Harris delivered remarks. The special featured appearances from John Legend, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato and more.
The program acknowledged frontline workers and other Americans who have given back to their communities throughout the pandemic. The event also featured the first American to receive the Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trial.
Almost 40 million people tuned in to President Biden’s inaugural address, including Alma student Heather Kaatz (’24).
One of Kaatz’s favorite parts of the inauguration ceremony was listening to Amanda Gorman speak. “I thought [her poem], ‘The Hill We Climb,’ was very inspiring,” Kaatz said.
For Kaatz, the event brought a mix of excitement and relief. “As a country, we still have tons of work to do, but I feel we are taking a step in the right direction toward unification,” Kaatz said.
Kaatz is interested in how the new administration will approach the Covid-19 pandemic, “I think added restrictions and mask mandates will help allow us to get ‘back to normal,’” Kaatz said.
Samuel Nelson (’21) made sure to catch some of President Biden’s inaugural ceremony live. “[What I watched live], combined with coverage I saw through the day, struck me with a strong sense of trying to create something ‘normal’ again,” Nelson said.
For Benjamin Schall (’24), one of the best parts of the inaugural ceremony was the sense of optimism it inspired, “[It] made me feel hopeful that this administration will lead to true healing,” Schall said.
Schall is looking forward to President Biden’s approach to climate reform. “Biden is America’s current best hope for our future on this planet, and I hope that he leads the other Democrats in discussion and eventual action with finally implementing a Green New Deal,” Schall said.