Cold, crowded, but well worth it

For Phoebe Norwood, it was the biting cold, the crush of the crowd and the diversity that engulfed her.

For Cheryl DuCray, it was the hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall, singing Garth Brooks’ rendition of “American Pie” with one voice.

For Bruce Hill, it was electricity that buzzed in the air.

For the handful of Grand Valley residents ambitious, connected or fortunate enough to experience an event historic on many levels, the hours and activities leading up to and including Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States generated a kaleidoscope of impressions. But to a person, they said it offered a glimpse of what optimism and unity look like.

“I haven’t seen a lot of protesters or negativism,” Cheryl DuCray, the director of Quest Academy, said a few hours after she and seven students from the Clifton Christian school witnessed Obama’s swearing-in and speech from their spot midway between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. “There are people really trying for unity and really trying to encourage family and positive things, so maybe that’s a turnaround. They got so negative during the election. Maybe this is a positive step.”

Norwood admitted her enthusiasm and anticipation for the day were dampened by the cold and the hordes of people. The 14-year-old student at the Fruita 8/9 School said she and other school kids paid for seating close to the inaugural platform but got booted out of there to near the back of the enormous crowd.

“I felt like a piece of gum in a full gum pack,” she said.

Norwood and other students left early and thawed out inside Nationals Park, the home of Washington, D.C.’s baseball team. There, in between shivers, she recalled the people who cried with joy and the assortment of cultures and realized she probably learned as much about diversity on her four-day trip to the nation’s capital as she will when she attends a conference in Denver next week.

“There really is a whole lot more than I thought in little Grand Junction,” Norwood said.

DuCray and her clan also struggled against the 20-degree temperatures and a stiff wind. One student began showing signs of hypothermia and had to scoot inside.

But neither that nor the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call skewed DuCray’s positive impressions.

DuCray was here four years ago during President Bush’s second inauguration. At that time, she said the events were more structured and stoic, attended largely by young Republicans and kids on high school trips. On Tuesday, she said, the atmosphere was more boisterous and upbeat. She said she was struck by the number of families with young children, a nod to the day’s historical significance.

Grand Junction City Councilman Bruce Hill awoke at 4 a.m. and hopped on the subway in Gaithersburg, Md., to take the 45-minute ride into Washington, D.C. His chairmanship of the Community and Economic Development Policy and Advocacy Committee of the National League of Cities earned him an invitation to view the parade from the league’s offices on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hill said he was impressed by Obama’s expression of faith in people, not government, to help restore the country.

“The piece that resonated with me is that where we are in our place now isn’t for government to ... get us out. It will be the people of this country, through technology and hard work, that will take us out,” Hill said.


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