As President Obama took the oath of office today, I took particular notice of a few items.
First, I felt a sort of reverence for our nation's strength by and commitment to the peaceful transition of power. This had not been as significant to me before I had traveled to Africa, where political upheaval seems continual (although not a problem in Tanzania). As President Obama spoke of work and alluded to national strength through the power individual work, there I was, working, touching up photos of prairie dogs. OK, my prairie dog pictures won't fix the economy, but they contribute in a small way to a better world. Importantly, as power shifted, I, as a member of the Executive Branch, went about my business as usual. The lights stayed on. No one tried to take over our office forcibly. The phone didn't even ring.
Second, I was deeply moved by the historical significance of Obama's election and inauguration in the context of civil rights and the lot of African-Americans in our nation's history. The part of Obama's speech that mentioned that his father might not have been allowed to dine at some of Washington's restaurants when he was born drove that point home. Here I sat as a steward of our 26th President's legacy, thinking of how just a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt faced severe public backlash that included racial epithets on headlines in Southern newspapers for inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House.
Third, I think it's important to recognize that Barack Obama is in every way the first 21st Century President. Though his election was most probably because he was in every way the most opposite of the unpopular George W. Bush, he embodies the changing demographics of America and a generational shift. For a nation looking for guidance and leadership in order to get back to its fundamentals, the American people picked someone very different from any of its previous leaders.