From I have a dream, to pinching yourself, realizing that you are awake. Actually, there was no need to pinch myself: the bitter cold D.C. air was enough to remind me that I was alive, and watching history happen right before my very eyes.

Hardin (right) and two friends from Australia in front of the Lincoln Memorial directly after the MLK Day celebration.
Hardin (right) and two friends from Australia in front of the Lincoln Memorial directly after the MLK Day celebration.

There were a predicted four million people present, and billions around the world watching the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, recited the oath of office. I was standing next to the Washington Monument, more closely resembling a popsicle than a human being, however, I was better off than some of the other people I had met who had been camping out since 3 a.m. Although I watched the proceedings on the giant screens set up all along the National Mall, I could partially see the Capitol Building from where I stood. Being present at such an event, sharing in the minor suffering of the elements with my fellow Americans, was an incredible moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

The day immediately before the inauguration was Martin Luther King Day, which was appropriately celebrated at the Lincoln Memorial. Celebrities from Denzel Washington to Steve Carrel were present, with performances by Shakira, Bruce “The Boss’ Springsteen and my most anticipated… Beyonce. Often finding myself surrounded by an international crowd, I made sure all of the Australians, Canadians, Israelis, Norwegians and Puerto Ricans knew that Beyonce and I shared the privilege of calling Houston home. We sang and performed the “circle chicken dance’ from the music video “Single Ladies” all day, eagerly awaiting her live performance. Using some flawed logic, she chose to sing the much less patriotic tune of “America the Beautiful.” We’ll forgive her, only because she is Beyonce.

Searching for a place to grab a bite to eat (which was quite a feat given the number of people present in the city) we ran in to some cadets from the Naval Academy who were in the Glee Club, and had gotten to sing onstage at the MLK Day performance. Their pictures of Barack and Michelle were literally taken from only a few yards away, and they captured pictures of Bono and friends from within inches. Although two very different perspectives of the same event, we were all able to enjoy and recall the moment together.

Don't get between Americans and their coffee on chilly D.C. mornings! Every trashcan in the city was overflowing with used coffee cups.
Don’t get between Americans and their coffee on chilly D.C. mornings! Every trashcan in the city was overflowing with used coffee cups.

With the exception of my immediate international circle, everywhere I went was amidst a sea of Americans, many of them black. Growing up in Houston, I went to a high school that was largely black and Hispanic, with a dwindling number of white kids. Looking around at the crowd, I noticed generations of black Americans that had traveled far and wide to witness and be a part of this piece of history. It brought a tear to my eye when I saw an elderly black woman, her eyes wet as she gazed across the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial, as she listened to President-Elect Obama Obama speak. She was ethereal, somehow outside of her body and in the present. I never asked her, but I didn’t have to in order understand that she had been in that exact spot before, almost half a century younger, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King share with the world his dream, the dream of millions.  Standing there with her grandson, asleep in his stroller, it was as if you could take a bite out of her sense of pride, accomplishment, and assurance.

Washington, D.C., is notorious for being a dangerous city, however, my entire time there, I never once felt unsafe. Something in the air felt brisk and refreshing, like a sip of Diet Coke. The streets were packed, it was disturbingly glacial (I literally traversed block by block, stopping in a pub/restaurant on each corner, thawing my nose and re-circulating the blood in my toes) but none of these elements of discomfort or potential sources of frustration seemed to dampen the mood. The news networks all wonder when the honeymoon period will end, but based on my assessment on Connecticut and 18th, real change is in the air.