Sandwiched in between two giant televisions screens, in the middle of the span between the inaugural stage and the Washington Monument, Austin Shinpaugh took in the sweeping images of Tuesday’s inauguration.
In the center of what appeared from a distance to be purplish grass but was really a teaming mass of humanity, he stood, bundled up, watching – and listening as the 44th President of the United State was sworn in.
“It was exhausting — it was exciting, it was cold — it was really cold. And it was loud. It was promising,” Shinpaugh said in a phone interview.
Staying in Virginia to attend the Inauguration and the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference in Washington D.C., he is the son of Carl and Karin Shinpaugh. He is the grandson of Marie and Grady Shinpaugh and Judy Martin Gamble and Gary Gamble, all of Waxahachie, and Roy Martin of Athens, Texas.
The high school senior said that when he looked toward any of the JumboTrons, people were stacked in there like toothpicks.
“It was very, very crowded,” he said. “There had to be more than two million people there.”
Despite crowd noise, the sound held up, and he heard most of President Obama’s inauguration speech.
The crowd around him made noise, he said.
“They did go ecstatic over some things. My biggest pet peeve of the day was when they booed Bush. My other pet peeve was talking to people around me about some of the issues and they couldn’t tell me anything about them,” Shinpaugh said.
“But you could see how much people were willing to believe in President Obama and unite behind him. There were even people from different countries waving flags in support of him,” he said.
Shinpaugh said he was surprised that security seemed loose. Warned not to bring bags or backpacks or purses, the students on his bus took what they could fit in their coat pockets.
“There were no security checks, no metal detectors, although you constantly heard the ‘whoop’ noise police cars make all the time, and heard the helicopters flying overhead, and if you looked overhead you could see the SWAT teams,” he said.
Handed the phone, one of his fellow students, Ernest Smith from Godfrey, Ill., said the day had been incredible.
“It was empowering – it made me feel I could go out and become anything I put my mind to,” said Smith, an African-American high school student who has plans for a double major in marine biology and zoology.
“He has shown the world through his hard work and perseverance that you can accomplish anything you want to,” he said.
In the evening, Austin Shinpaugh attended one of the many inaugural balls in town. Although the President and First Lady went to 10 balls, there were others in town as well, including the one at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum for senior high, middle school and college students.
The popular rock band Daughtry played, and the atmosphere was relaxed and upbeat, Shinpaugh said.
“Everyone just let loose – we had fun. There was a lot of food and music and dancing,” he said.
E-mail J. Louise at firstname.lastname@example.org