A small, hazy figure steps up to the podium. His face glows on dozens of JumboTrons along the National Mall as he gathers his breath. A roaring “O-BA-MA!” chant fades, and the crowd of just under two million slowly silences. Without any more hesitation, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama begins his inaugural speech: “My fellow citizens, I stand here today,” bellowed the president, pausing here as the frenzied applause slowly quieted, “humbled by the task before us.”

For the next 18 minutes and 20 seconds, Obama acknowledged the challenges facing the nation – including overseas war, a weakened economy and struggling public schools – confidently promising that these issues would be addressed.

“That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood,” Obama said. “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

In the section for silver ticket-holders, located just behind the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the crowd jostled impatiently as each viewer labored to push to the front. Pressing closer to the fence, the observers craned their necks and stood on tiptoe in an attempt to see their new president’s face on a JumboTron. A frantic fear of losing their vantage points kept the crowd densely packed, though even in this ticketed section, steady views of the Capitol were anything but reliable.

In his address, Obama exalted the country’s diversity, represented in the Inaugural crowd before him, as one of its greatest strengths.

“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers,” he said. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Bill Clinton were both greeted with applause, but, when former President George W. Bush walked onto the stage, a large section of the crowd began to sing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

Nevertheless, Obama was quick to extend gratitude to his predecessor.

“I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition,” he said.

Throughout the speech, observers in many sections thrust their digital cameras into the air, hoping to capture a single frame of the tiny, ambiguous figures seated on the stage. Their photos were to be evidence that their owners had survived the 2 million-person migration into the District. Pins proclaiming “I Was There” hung proudly on hats and coats alike.

The president concluded his address on a note of hope for the future, asking Americans to join him in getting the nation through these tough times.

“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations,” he said.

Prior to the address, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens swore in Vice President Joe Biden, and, using Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural bible, Chief Justice John Roberts swore Obama in as the 44th president of the United States just after noon. The chief justice, though, misplaced “faithfully” in the oath. After some raised concerns about the legality of the incorrectly worded oath, Roberts re-administered the oath of office again yesterday at the White House to Obama.

Nearly 2 million people braved freezing temperatures on the National Mall to take in the historic inauguration, filling it to capacity just after 9 a.m. Groups, small and large, huddled, marched and danced on the Mall just to stay warm. Others searched for the designated warming centers, including several Smithsonian museums, in order to alleviate the numbing sensations from the wind. The high for the day was 31 degrees, but frigid wind chills made the temperatures feel more like they were in the teens for most of the day.

Capitol security began allowing ticketed spectators into the Mall at 8 a.m., but thousands of people, some of whom were ticket-holders, were unable to join the crowds after inauguration officials were forced to close the Mall just over an hour later.

Patricia Kehoe (SFS ’12) was among those who couldn’t make it into the Mall.

“I was one of thousands of ticket-holders turned away from my assigned gate after waiting in line for over four hours. I’m disappointed to have missed the actual inauguration, but I still feel like I was a part of history today,” she said.

As the speech ended, though the ceremony was still officially in progress with an original poetry reading by Elizabeth Alexander, the record-breaking crowd began to file out of the National Mall. With some dressed in Obama merchandise and others carrying tiny American flags, the weary millions, many of whom had arrived before dawn, soon fell into a chaotic gridlock as throngs of observers fled in opposite directions. People were unsure of how to exit the area, and large crowds had gathered along the silver gates which blocked off the streets bordering the Mall.

“We were pushing through confused crowds of people for almost an hour before we were able to exit the Mall. My entire group got split up,” Thomas Clifford (COL ’11) said. “Obama has a lot of goals for our country, but we have to start by successfully getting out of the ceremony.”

Check out The Hoya’s city blog, Outside the Gates, for more inauguration recaps and student experiences.

Be sure to also take a look at The Hoya’s Inauguration photo albums, Inaugural Photos.

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