Inauguration Day by Kayla Hendrickson

Today and tomorrow are very important days in the United States.

Barack and Michelle Obama – ©The White House

Our Constitution, our most important political document, states that every four years there is a presidential election in November.  On January 20th the year after that, we have Inauguration Day, when the winner of the election officially becomes the president for the next four years.  Therefore, today is the day when President Obama’s second term (period of four years as president) begins.  However, our tradition is that when January 20th is a Sunday, we have the official ceremony, called the Inaugural Ceremony, on Monday instead.

The Inaugural Ceremony takes place outside the Capitol building in Washington, DC. This white building is where Congress, the people who write laws for the country, work.

The Capitol Building in Washignton – ©JGS

Every ceremony is different, but the most important moment is when the president takes the Oath of Office (an oath is a very serious promise, and in this case “office” means a job position).  The Constitution provides the words for this oath, where the president promises to be the best president he can and to preserve and protect the Constitution.  Then, the president makes a speech, where he talks about his love for the country and what he will do as president.  At the end of the ceremony, there is a procession where the president walks from the Capitol building to the White House.

One of our traditions about the Inaugural Ceremony is that as the president takes the Oath of Office, he has his left hand on top of a Bible. The president often chooses a particular copy that has personal significance for him.  Tomorrow, President Obama will have his hand on top of two Bibles — one that belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr., and one that was used at the Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.  President Lincoln was the president during the American Civil War (1861-1865), and he was the president who freed the slaves. The text of the oath is the following:

“I, [President’s Name] do solemnly swear, that I will execute the office of President of the United States faithfully, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God”

Four years ago, I was living in Washington, DC, and I went to the first Inaugural Ceremony for President Obama.  It was perhaps the most exciting day of my life so far.  It is difficult to explain how important this day was for American history.  At the end of President Bush’s second term, he was extremely unpopular.  Many people were angry with him about the wars and about the horrible state of the economy.  Barack Obama was a symbol of new hope for people to work together to help the country be strong.  In addition, he was of course the first black or African-American president in U.S. history.  Even people who did not like his ideas still recognized that this was an extremely important moment for our country.  As a result, his first Inaugural Ceremony was the largest event in Washington, DC in history — about 1.8 million people came!!

Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin
Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin

Tomorrow is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day when we celebrate the life and work of a very important activist for African-American rights.  This is a day when we think about freedom and love for everyone, and respect for people who are different from us.  We honor people who have fought for people’s rights even when it was controversial and dangerous.  President Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both assassinated because of their belief in freedom and equality for all people.

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All the pictures included in the slideshow are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Happy Birthday” is a 1981 single written, produced, and performed by Stevie Wonder. Wonder was one of the main figures in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday.  United States President Ronald Reagan approved the creation of the holiday, on November 2, 1983. The first official Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was held on January 20, 1986 and since then, on the third Monday in January of each year. (Thanks to Thomas for mentioning this song to me )

Lyrics of the song available here.

Though life in America is better now for people such as African-Americans than it was in the past, they still do not have complete equality and respect.  For example, there are still more people who want to kill President Obama than any other president in our history.  Before he was elected, many people doubted that Americans would elect an African-American.

Today and tomorrow, spend some time thinking about people in Spain who don’t have full equality and respect.  What can you do to support their rights?