“I wanted to watch today to see our country being taken over by someone who actually believes in truth and kindness, and who is here to take care of us.”
Sophie Gharai didn’t watch the last presidential inauguration in 2017 because of who was taking office. In fact, the last time she viewed the ceremonial induction was when she was in middle school.
“I was in the 6th grade, and it was [President Barack] Obama’s first term,” Gharai told COURIER. “I remember we had a big snowstorm and I was crowded around the TV with my family, amazed that history was occurring in front of me.”
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On Wednesday, the 23-year-old Maryland native tuned in to watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take their own oaths. The two, newly sworn in president and vice president highlighted a theme of national unity, which was a far cry from four years ago when now former President Donald Trump delivered his “American Carnage” speech during his inauguration.
“I wanted to watch today to see our country being taken over by someone who actually believes in truth and kindness, and who is here to take care of us,” Gharai said.
Trump’s divisive four years in office helped pique Gharai’s interest in politics. In contrast, Biden made unity and healing the nation the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
It’s a message he brought to the forefront again during his inaugural speech.
“The will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed,” he said. “This is a great nation. We are a good people, and over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we’ve come so far but we still have far to go.”
“Today, on this January day,” he continued, “my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face, anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.”
Keeping the last four years in mind made Biden’s inauguration even more special for Gharai. “I’m excited and relieved. It’s been a hard four years, especially living in the DC area. To watch my city go through what it has—I’m so ready to see peace and prosperity come back to us.”
The inauguration ceremony looked vastly different from previous years. Between COVID-19 precautions, which the Biden team have taken very seriously, and increased security presence after the armed attack on the US Capitol, more people than ever before watched the ceremony from their couches.
Despite the changes, Gharai said she still felt excited to see Harris take her oath of office. The former California senator was sworn in as the nation’s first woman vice president, and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the role.
“Seeing a woman of color and just a woman in such a seat of power is absolutely incredible,” she said. “It makes me tear up.”
It’s a point Biden also made sure to raise during his speech: “Here we stand where 108 years ago, at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote, and today we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
Biden and Harris are expected to work on a flurry of new legislation and executive orders in their first hours in office. The president is expected to sign 17 executive orders in the afternoon once he takes office. Those orders are expected to quickly dismantle some of Trump’s legacy, including stopping construction of his promised border wall, reversing the travel ban that targets majority Muslim countries, and rejoining the Paris climate accord, to name a few.
Gharai, who graduated from college in December 2019 just months before the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, said that she would like to see action taken on student loan debt.
“I definitely feel passionate about the possibility of getting rid of student loans,” she said. “It would be a weight off if I didn’t have to handle the debt of my loans.”
For this young American, the inauguration ceremony, for all its pomp and frills, simply marks the beginning of something new.
“Watching [made me] realize that the world is turning over a new leaf,” she said, “and things are really going to start looking up.”