Through Their Eyes: A Former Intern’s Experience at the 2009 Presidential Swearing In Ceremony

12 05 2010

Some may consider it fate, others might say it was serendipity; but whatever way you slice it Brendan Palmer had a “golden ticket” to one of the most historic events in town- the swearing in of President Barack Obama!
For Brendan, his “golden ticket” didn’t come in the form of a constituent ticket handed down from a Congressional Representative; rather, his ticket came in the form of a CNN employee “all access” pass!
Brendan had the rare opportunity to work on the press platform during this historic event and after working nearly 12 hours to help usher in our nations newest President, Brendan still found the time to write about his experience during this momentous occasion!

Check it out below!

Politics aside, Tuesday January 20th was an historic day to say the least. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I think everyone can agree that with President Obama in the White House we as a nation have come quite a long way. About a week before the inauguration, I found out my assignment for inauguration day, which was to help out on the press platform on Capitol Hill- essentially next to the main platform during the swearing-in ceremony. The Saturday before the inauguration, I went out to the National Mall with a camera crew to talk to random people and shoot some B-roll of workers setting up for Tuesday.
With all the road closures and heightened security in D.C., I considered myself pretty lucky to live within walking distance to the Capitol. I left my house at about 3:00am, bundled up in several layers from head-to-toe to confront the freezing-cold temperatures that lay ahead. After I arrived, I got in line with the rest of the national and international media and waited to go through the security checkpoint, which took about an hour to get through as we had to wait for the Secret Service to complete their security sweep of the grounds. Because of this, we missed our 5:00am hit time as we scrambled to connect and setup cables, microphones, cameras, earpiecs and computers. They started the coverage from a CNN studio in New York, and once we were ready to go at about 5:10am, they came to us live.
Throughout the day I “met” a lot of interesting people (I say “met” because I never really formally introduced myself, just sort of helped them get seated and mic-ed up): Mark Warner, Congressman Joe Lewis, Former Secretary Colin Powell, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, Harry Belafante and a lot of CNN on-air talent.

Then finally, after having been out there since the very early hours of the morning, the ceremony started around 10:30am. The view I had of the National Mall and the ENORMOUS crowd was absolutely astounding. The Mall started filling up with people before the sun even came up around 6:00am, and by the time the thing actually started there were easily over 1.5 million people as far as my eye could see, all the way from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Soon enough, the band was playing music and the announcer began introducing dignitaries, politicians, and other VIPs over the PA system as they began to stroll into their seats on the main platform. I brought my digital SLR with a 300mm zoom lens. I had the auto-focus on and was just constantly clicking away as I saw people like Hillary and Bill Clinton, John McCain, George Bush (I and II), Dick Cheney, Sasha and Malia and Michelle Obama and the likes enter my viewfinder.

Suddenly after President Bush was announced, the sound of thousands of people in the front section chanting the ye-olde sports jock jam chant “Na na, Na na na na, Hey hey hey, GOOD-BYE!!!” began to grow louder and louder. After Vice-President Joe Biden was announced and everyone cheered, there was a long pause and the anticipation amongst the crowd was palpable as the sound of thousands- no, MILLIONS of people chanted in unison, “OH-BAM-AAHH! OH-BAM-AAH!”.

The strangest part was, I was seeing this with my own eyes. Not on a TV, not on a jumbo-tron, but live- right in front of me. These people who I’ve seen on TV countless times were right in front of me. And then the notion that practically our entire government was sitting on one stage sort of freaked me out, but I was reassured when I looked up to the Capitol dome and saw several Secret Service snipers with huge guns and binoculars scoping out the crowd.
The ceremony went off without a hitch (with the exception of Justice Roberts, who flubbed the oath – ~D’oh!~) My shift didn’t end until about 6:30pm – 15 hours on no sleep in the freezing cold witnessing the most historic event in my lifetime!




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