DeKALB – Virgina Sherrod still remembers the excitement she felt as she watched Jimmy Carter walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during his inauguration.
Although she was not there in person Monday, Sherrod said President Barack Obama’s inauguration proved more exciting than her experience in 1977. She said it was special and historic to see Obama take office on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and reflect on all the positive changes that have occurred since 1977.
She said it was heartwarming to see the diversity of people who came together during the inauguration.
“All day I’ve been overwhelmed ... on the top of the world,” she said. “It’s amazing to see so many people come together and find common ground. We all have a common ground.”
Mark Pietrowski Jr., who was with Sherrod and other county Democrats at the party’s inauguration celebration Monday, said he was optimistic about the next four years and believed more bipartisanship was possible.
He said Obama delivered a clear vision in his speech and believed the country was ready to embrace his “forward thinking” policies.
“There is still going to be a divide for sure, but I think we’ll see more people working together,” said Pietrowski, chairman of the DeKalb County Democrats. “I think we all have a high sense of optimism right now.”
Not everyone believed a new term would translate to a new dynamic in Washington. Steve Kuhn, chairman of the DeKalb County Republicans, said speeches about change have not led to the changes the country needs.
Until words are put into action, Kuhn said it is hard to think the change will come.
“I would hope the parties would learn to cooperate, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” Kuhn said. “They need to make some hard decisions and get spending under control.”
While many watched the inauguration from home, Sandwich High School band and choir students experienced the event live.
The students, who left Thursday for Washington to perform at a WorldStrides Heritage Performance event, toured historical sites throughout the weekend and attended the president’s speech Monday.
Director Justin Heinekamp said while he was proud the band took first place in its class at Friday’s event, the chance to witness an inauguration and visit national monuments was the true highlight.
“We always tell the kids music can open doors and this proved that,” he said. “We got to see the inauguration live and visit all these cool sites, all because we were invited to perform.”
The band had performed in Washington at the same event for previous inaugurations, but for seniors Monica Thomas and Mckenzie Sauer it was an experience of a lifetime. Both students said the 13-hour bus ride, cold weather and massive crowds were worth the chance to see a presidential speech.
Thomas said she hopes her group carried on the tradition previous Sandwich High School bands set of securing future invitations to the event for future generations.
“It was amazing to watch [the inauguration] live,” Thomas said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance that most people don’t get. They’re memories I’ll have forever.”
The optimism and excitement the students left Washington with is something Rep. Robert Pritchard hopes can spread in Obama’s second term.
The Hinckley Republican said the nation and state are facing many of the same problems and strong leadership will be needed in both places to accomplish the changes many want to see.
“Our country has always been able to come together,” he said. “We have to focus on getting our country back on its feet and not on the division or strict philosophies.”