Cal Poly students take Washington

The Inauguration on Monday fell on federal holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day, causing many to bring up King/Obama comparisons. After the festivities, the Obamas visited a King statue in the Capitol Rotunda to pay their respects to the deceased civil rights leader. -photo courtesy of

Jessica Burger

President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term last weekend before giving his inaugural address to the nation on the steps of the Capitol Building Monday at noon.

And some Cal Poly students were there to witness the historic event.

Business administration sophomore Brian Henson was the first person in line Sunday night for the standby, or non-ticketed section (tickets were made available to anyone interested in attending the event through various congress members). The crowd in his section, which was approximately 600,000 strong, was made up of a mix of people from all different backgrounds, ages and races, Henson said. Most of them showed up at around 3 a.m. to wait in line, despite the 28-degree weather and snow warning, he said.

“The weather got as low as 26 degrees,” Henson said. “A couple people waiting in line fainted and had to be removed by paramedics.”

Even with the below-freezing temperatures, the actual event was worth it, he said.

“The anticipation was tough, waiting those 11 hours, but finally seeing people like Nancy Pelosi or Jay-Z and Beyonce show up, and hearing everyone cheer was incredible,” Henson said.

Political science senior Adriana Hidalgo also attended the inauguration ceremony but was able to grab “really great seats” in the seated section of about 200,000. Even though the seats were nice, some of the attendees were not, she said. Hidalgo was near a protester who climbed into a tree, yelling, “Stop abortion!” and shouting for several minutes before being removed by police, she said.

“It was kind of unbelievable and really disrespectful,” Hidalgo said. “I just wish some people would realize Barack Obama is our president, whether you agree or disagree with him.”

For her, the president’s speech was “absolutely amazing,” — she said she felt inspired by Obama’s message that everyone in our nation needs to work together.

“I felt his speech was very strong and and very honest,” she said. “It just got me excited.“

His speech highlighted issues in climate change, healthcare, the economy and equal rights, as well as using the word “gay” for the first time in an inaugural speech — a hallmark that had many in the LGBT community applauding the president.

Biomedical and engineering senior Aaron Rowley, who works on the counseling team at the Pride Center on campus, said he has generally seen a change in awareness at Cal Poly, but acceptance on a national level is different. Obama’s use of the word “gay” may be a signal of the latter, he said.

“I think people’s first reaction when they heard it is ‘Oh wow, this is something that everyone is talking about,” Rowley said.

He said although a mention of gay rights in Obama’s address may not lead to instant changes in legislation, it is inspirational for those across the nation who identify themselves as part of that group.

“If someone like President Obama is saying that, it certainly means that for individuals on campus, having heard that, will give them hope,” Rowley said.

After the inaugural ceremony, the Obama family attended two inaugural balls where Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Brad Paisley performed.

Today is his first uninterrupted day in office.