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Witness to History

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By Stephen Lega

Barack Obama became the first black man inaugurated as President of the United States Jan. 20, and yet, Tommy Calhoun felt something familiar while attending the ceremony.   "It sort of reminded me of Ham Days in a large city," he said.   During Ham Days, everybody is happy and having a good time, said Calhoun, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Lebanon. That same feeling is what he felt among the crowd at the inauguration.   "The joy of the crowd was just amazing," he said. "I could see God has a part in all things."   Calhoun wasn't Marion County's only connection to the inauguration. Middle school and college students and a Lebanon native who now lives in Washington D.C. were at the National Mall that cold day among a crowd that has been estimated by some national media sources to be as large as two million people.   Ken Bell, a 1974 graduate of Marion County High School, moved to the nation's capital the day before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. Since then, Bell has witnessed five Presidents take the oath of office.   But this year was different.   "This was about like 10 Super Bowls all in one day," Bell said. "I don't think the city has ever seen anything like this."   Bell, a Department of Defense employee, said the crowd was united in a way he has only seen one other time - at the Million Man March, which was primarily a call to action for black males. Unlike that event, the inaugural crowd was more diverse, with people from across the country and across the world, according to Bell.   "Obama's election - I'm proud of it, being a black man, but I feel like worldwide it's going to be a good thing," he said.   The crowd also included Campbellsville University political science major Emily Buckman, who attended the inauguration with the CU Collegiate Historians. She was also one of the lucky people who got into the ticketed area of the event.   "It was very, very exciting," said Buckman, a Lebanon native. "It's hard to believe that I was actually there."   Large video screens were placed throughout the Mall, but Buckman didn't need to look at one. She was in an area where she had a direct view of the inauguration stage and President Obama. "He was small, but I could still see him," she said.   After the invocation by Rick Warren, a song by Aretha Franklin and the swearing in of Vice-President Joe Biden, Obama took the oath and gave his address. According to Buckman, people were proud to be present for the historic ceremony.   "I will always be able to say I saw the first African-American President being sworn in," she said.   Buckman wasn't the only student from Marion County in the crowd.   Michael Costello and Charles Shofner, both eighth-graders from St. Charles Middle School, and Skylar Walston, a sixth grader at Lebanon Middle School, also made it to the Mall that morning. All three were participants in the Junior Presidential Youth Inauguration Conference.   As part of the conference, they heard former Vice-President Al Gore speak about global warming, former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, and Eric Weihenmayer, a mountain climber who is blind and has reached the peak of Mt. Everest and the Seven Summits (the tallest mountains on each continent).   Costello, Shofner and Walston also visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where they met astronauts, and took a boat ride on the Potomac River. They even had their own inaugural ball, but Costello said it wasn't one of the 10 that President Obama and the First Lady visited.   On the day of the inauguration, the conference participants gathered near the Washington Monument.  Shofner said he was able to see one of the video screens. Costello could not.   "The only thing I could see was the Washington Monument," Costello said. "I could not see anything going on, but they had speakers. And I heard all of it."   Shofner said he could feel the "presence of change" in the air among the crowd.   "On TV you can actually see everything there, but being there meant so much more," he said.   Like Costello, Walston had a limited view, but unlike Costello, he had one more problem that day. "We couldn't hear him." Walston said regarding Obama's inaugural speech.   Nevertheless, he said he will remember being in D.C. on the day the President took office.   Bell and Buckman did hear the address, and they both mentioned the same moment as something that they'll remember.   "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall," Obama said at that moment, "and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."   Bell said he has to believe that many youth were inspired by what Obama has accomplished. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but Costello and Shofner spoke about being inspired during their trip.   "Anything is possible ...," Shofner said. "... if you just put your mind to it," Costello added.   If watching the first African-American candidate wasn't memorable enough, minister Calhoun has another reason to remember the day as well.    After Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery finished the benediction, Calhoun proposed to Teresa Rogers, who is now his fiancé'.    Obama is a family man, and the First Family can serve as role models for families across the country, Calhoun said.   He also recalled that, as he was leaving the Mall that day, several people sang songs of togetherness and started chants.   "Obama." "God is good." "'We are one,' I heard that a lot." Calhoun said. "People want to be one nation in their hearts."