By Suzannah Young
On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden was sworn into office at the country’s 46th presidential inauguration. Despite the many ceremonies the United States has had, the 2021 inauguration at the nation’s Capitol building contained many “firsts” for the United States.
A small "first" is that Joe Biden, age 78, became the oldest president to ever be sworn into office.
More notably, this ceremony gave the country one of the biggest firsts it’s ever had—the first Black, female Vice President.
This was also the first inauguration where social distancing and face masks were required. Due to the global pandemic and the violent siege of the capitol building on Jan. 6, the public was encouraged to enjoy the event virtually, and Congress invitations were reduced to one guest per member.
This year’s inauguration had just 1,000 guests in attendance. Compared to Obama’s 2009 inauguration, which contained approximately 1.8 million people, according to The New York Times, this year’s ceremony seems to be one of the smallest in modern history.
Despite the small audience and tight security, the theme of the event, “America United,” was eminent.
In his inaugural speech, President Biden said, “To overcome these challenges...It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity. Unity.”
His message impacted junior public relations major Jada Mohammed, who admires Biden and Harris’ compassion. When they took the time to acknowledge COVID-19 victims, Mohammed appreciated their effort to emphasize the importance of all lives, and even believed they were setting a precedent.
“I think the most important parts included President Biden and the Harris family showing humanity,” said Mohammed. “It’s been a long time since this country had a leader with empathy.”
Shaneiya Harris, a sophomore English major, agrees. Harris also enjoyed the inauguration because of its diversity.
“The amount of representation for what we call the melting pot was what made this inauguration so different from the others,” Harris said. “With all the different racial backgrounds, unique age groups, etc., there was something for everyone to enjoy.”
The diversity of the audience played a key role in communicating the message of unity. Former Vice President Mike Pence attended the ceremony, demonstrating public bi-partisan support for the new administration.
Other notable attendees of the event were former presidents Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. The three men made a joint speech in support of President Biden. The speech was delivered via a video message.
"I think the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country," former Republican President Bush said in the video, alongside democrats Obama and Clinton.
According to Politico, this comment is speculated to be a response to the absence of Biden’s predecessor, former president Donald Trump.
On Jan. 8, with less than two weeks until the inauguration, Trump tweeted, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on Jan. 20.”
When Trump left the White House on inauguration day, he became the first living predecessor to not participate in a peaceful transfer of power since 1869, when Andrew Jackson refused to attend the ceremony of his political rival, Ulysses S. Grant.
Citing the former president’s lack of responsibility in handling the riots at the capitol building on Jan. 6, Biden was in support of Trump’s decision not to attend the inauguration.
“[This is] one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on,” Biden said. “It’s a good thing, him not showing up.”
Trump did however leave a letter for President Biden. The incoming president described it as “generous.”
Despite the absence of the former president, the inauguration went on with a diverse set of performances.
Pop stars Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez and country star Garth Brooks were among the top celebrity names at the event. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Andrea Hall, the first African American female firefighter captain in the Fire Rescue Department in South Fulton, Georgia. Her performance inspired and captivated many.
“I think Andrea Hall did an amazing job with the pledge,” Mohammed said. “Her inclusive rendition of the pledge in sign language was beautifully done and probably meant so much to differently-abled people who were made to feel like they didn’t matter during the past administration.”
Another popular act was the first-ever youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman.
“I am a poet myself so when Amanda Gorman took the stage, I knew it was something that many would remember,” said Harris.
At age 22, Gorman was not only the youngest poet laureate, but also the first woman of color to assume the role. In her original poem “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman voiced optimism, incited positive action, and emphasized the importance of American inclusivity.
Mohammed believes each part of the inauguration worked to demonstrate the message of unity.
“This [inauguration] was hopeful in so many ways; a shift happened in America that provided hope for healing and inclusivity.” said Mohammed.