By VASUMATHI VENKAT ‘22
Since the experiment of the American democracy was established in 1776, eyes worldwide have watched the USA. Last Wednesday, the whole world witnessed the reins of the American government being handed over to yet 46th president, Democratic politician and former Senator Joe Biden. This moment marked an important milestone in American history, exhibiting the system of popular government and representation in republicanism.
At the same time, it marked an important change, affecting people living all over America, including the town of Edison.
“After the last four years, it was nice to see a diverse and dignified group uniting the country in this historic moment and providing hope for the future of our nation,” said Isha Malaviya ‘22.
This year’s election and inauguration have been viewed as more than a civic duty and ceremony because people believe that they have a greater personal stake in the results, especially considering the commotion surrounding the election and vote-counting and the current mood of the country.
“This isn’t the first inauguration I have watched. I have watched inaugurations ever since I was a little girl, but there are stronger emotions associated with this year’s inauguration. I felt like my family was a lot more involved in this year’s election as well,” Diya Agrawal ‘22 reflected.
The past four tumultuous years have seen controversial legislation, such as the end of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), expedition of environmental reviews for public projects, removal of grant money from “sanctuary cities” to discourage illegal immigration, ban of Syrain refugees, restriction lobbying by ex-Presidential Cabinet appointees, and the infamous wall along the US-Mexico border. Within the past year itself, the country has seen militaristic reactions to peaceful protests for the BLM movement, an attack on the Capital by rioters encouraged by former President Trump’s rally, a delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic, and two presidential impeachments.
Although the excitement surrounding American politics seems to be dying down, in reality, government scandals were never meant to be the focus of the media and our lives. In fact, they were never meant to occur. With a possible conviction for Trump and greater distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the near future, many Americans look forward to a less eventful and more restorative four years, starting with a more positive view of diversity.
Regardless of red and blue party lines, the election and inauguration of an Indian-African American woman to the vice presidency represents a historic moment, bringing hope to many colored people and women, across the nation and the world.
“I think it’s one of the memorable moments in life since it was the first time seeing a woman, and a woman of color, as the Vice President. This represents America and its diversity,” commented Sahana Ali ‘24.
“Seeing the Vice President sworn in was both comforting and inspiring, because girls of color finally had a familiar face to look up to,” Maulikaa Manikantan ‘22 said.
The ceremonies also saw another display of diversity: African-American activist and first National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet at the age of 22 with her lauded poem, “The Hill We Climb”. From the first line, “When day comes we ask ourselves, / where can we find light in this never-ending shade? / The loss we carry, / a sea we must wade,” she referred to the current situation as a passing challenge to overcome, discussing both reality and hope.
“I thought the poem was very powerful and heartfelt. When I was listening to it, I kind of feared it a little because it came straight from the heart, and it made you acknowledge problems going on in our society like racial injustice,” said Jana Elgebrawi ‘22.
“I’m eager to witness the changes the Biden administration continues to make, especially regarding diversity which we can see through Kamala Harris, Amanda Gorman the poet’s speech—which I thought was very well-written—, and Biden’s repeal of the ban of trans-people in the army,” said Ishita Gabhane ‘22, “Being a woman of color myself, I’d say I’m hopeful to see what these next four years bring.”
Celebrities, such as Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Garth Brooks, performed classic American patriotic songs for the occasion as well, adding to the day’s festivities.
Despite the hope it brought, this date has made history for another reason. For the first time since March 4, 1837, an outgoing president has not been present at his successor’s inauguration. Though this act is not required by the Constitution, it has become an inaugural tradition ever since George Washington did so in 1797 as a show of good faith. There have only been three other exceptions of presidents who declined to show up, all of whom served only one term: John Adams, the second President; John Quincy Adams, the sixth President; and Andrew Johnson, the 17th President and the first to be impeached.
To many people, this departure from tradition followed a clear historical pattern and sent mixed messages.
“I believe that former President Trump was supposed to show up to the inauguration no matter what the situation between him and President Biden is because it is a tradition,” Elgebrawi ‘22 reflected, “This tradition is so important for the American citizens because it shows a peaceful transfer of power that represents our democracy, and when it didn’t happen, I personally felt like part of that was missing.”
However, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did attend the ceremonies as they have previously, with Jimmy Carter declining due to coronavirus concerns.
The ascension of Joe Biden to the presidency will also determine what the future of the country will look like—more pertinent now than ever, given the current situation of COVID-19, the financial crisis, and racial injustice. These issues have affected schools through racial equality in educational quality and the transition between remote and in-person learning, with students fearing that the current situation may become the norm.
Malaviya ‘22 specified, “I want to see transparency, dignity, and commitment as well as the handling of issues such as climate change, the prison-industrial complex, and white supremacy. I don’t want to see lies, the spread of misinformation, refusal to accept criticism, and a lack of policies to help marginalized groups and lower-class people.”
The Edison High junior finds that concealing the compromise of the well-being of the American public for the economy is unethical, believing that an effective president should be honest with the public and carefully deal with multiple issues at once. Like many others, she hopes that Biden will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.
“Under Trump’s administration, racism and white supremacy were encouraged and enforced as we can see with the attack on the Capitol. Police officers were taking selfies, while peaceful protestors of BLM were tear-gassed and attacked,” said Shikha Agarwal ‘22, “I think change will occur under Biden’s presidency because he understands the struggles the American public has had to endure for the previous four years.”
Her statement reflects the sentiment held by many Edison High students, a number of whom hosted a BLM protest at school last summer and currently participate in many clubs celebrating diversity, such as Peacock Society and UMOJA.
Mayukha Ragimanu ‘22 noted, “I’m really into the idea of political/racial equality, and although I’m not completely siding with Democrats for this election, I think with someone more open-minded in office, there’s more of an opportunity for equality among those coming from differing culture or social statuses.” However, she acknowledges the potential shortcomings as well, “Although it’s not certain whatsoever that we’ll all be equal per say, I think it’s really important that, as a country, we should be striving to be as close to equal as possible. That being said, I think that having someone who reflects similar ideals should be in office.”
After seeing many legislators from both parties as well as former Vice President Mike Pence attend the inaugural ceremonies together in a sign of mutual respect and peaceful relations, many hope that Biden will follow through on the optimistic promises he presented in his inspiring Inaugural Address.
Agarwal ‘22 said, “As for the COVID-19 vaccine handling and the pandemic in whole, I think Biden’s board of scientists and researchers speaks for itself. The fact that Biden has appointed people to make informed decisions is a positive start; now, it is up to him and Vice President Harris to ensure the virus is handled safely and the vaccine is administered effectively.”
Being mindful of both education and safety has led to the compromise of remote learning, which according to many students and teachers, has removed the social aspect of learning. However, the vaccine provides a way to curb the rise in cases and potentially return in in-person schooling. This possibility has only become more pertinent with the Edison Board of Education pushing back its plans for hybrid education from February 1 to March 1.
“I think after Biden implemented more protocols for COVID… I think it will affect Edison positively because it will protect more people from the virus, and I especially hope that this will allow us students to return to school and a general sense of normalcy sooner rather than later,” Ali ‘24 commented.
Edison, like the rest of the country, waits to see what President Biden has planned, expecting real solutions for the real problems it has been facing.
Photo Credit: Abigail Alvarez ’21