“Stepping out of the Shade” – Women of the Inauguration

By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–

January 20th, 2021 was President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day, but it was also Vice President Kamala Harris’s Inauguration Day and a much larger celebration marked by the prominence, intelligence, and eloquence of women.

Almost exactly four years prior to the day, it’s estimated that nearly 500,000 people went to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington; they protested the election of former President Trump, his rhetoric towards women, and what his Administration would undeniably mean for human, civil, and women’s rights (amongst many others). But on January 20th, 2021, save Biden, the Inauguration was flanked by women; the occasion offered a stark rebuke of the division, hatred, lies, and tragedy sowed by Trump and those who surrounded him.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential candidate herself, was the sort of host/emcee of the event. She jubilantly paced the event and was the first person to officially introduce Biden to the nation as President of the United States. Behind the scenes, due to her role as the lead Senate Democrat on the Congressional Planning Committee, she was tasked with ensuring the Inauguration ran smoothly, which is no easy feat and was made all the more complicated due to COVID-19 restrictions and serious security concerns following the Capitol Riot two weeks prior. Her attention to detail, poise, and stamina rightly shifted the focus away from herself, yet her leadership and intentionality highlighted her vitality to the success of the Inauguration.

Speaking of intentionality, Dr. Jill Biden, our nation’s newest First Lady, was absolutely intentional with every choice she made that had to do with the Inauguration. Her outfit for the swearing-in ceremony, designed by Markarian designer Alexandra O’Neill, was incredibly thought-out. For one, the color was apparently chosen to represent “trust, confidence, and stability,” and the designers wanted to build upon her reliably feminine style to create something to match the occasion. Her evening gown, too, was filled with details: it was embroidered with flowers from every state and territory with a teacher-esque Benjamin Franklin quote on the inside lining.

But Dr. Biden is of course thoughtful far beyond her fashion choices; she will make her own mark as First Lady by continuing to teach at Northern Virginia Community College, truly balancing the duties of First Lady with those of her career. The first to do so, she takes on the challenge with pride and a greater social understanding of what her decision publicly conveys; when an op-ed author called for Dr. Biden to drop the “Dr.” from her title upon becoming First Lady, she indirectly responded on Twitter, writing that “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.” Moreover, Dr. Biden is the person who gifted us with the presence, poise, and poem of Amanda Gorman, whom she had seen perform years before and invited to her husband’s inauguration.

22 year-old Amanda Gorman not only stunned the nation with her bright disposition, her clear dictation, and her refreshing boldness, but her Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was intricately layered with rich imagery, incomparable depth, and themes of hope and unity so desperately yearned for in this country. Not glazing over the imperfections of this Union we share, she lyrically and visually painted a picture of a country with “purpose;” calling out the challenges we face, the divisions among us, and the responsibility of the inheritance that is America, she did not shy away from the steepness of “the hill we climb.” But she reminded us that we cannot be deterred from the duty we share in leaving this world better than we found it.

She writes in her poem:

“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Although the day ultimately was centered around President Biden, for me, the Inauguration was a testament to the strength, determination, and fierceness of women in all the best ways. None of that became more clear than when Vice President Kamala Harris swore her Oath, which seemed in retrospect to be a long-overdue response to the March on Washington four years ago, and most assuredly the centuries of struggle before it.

As the cameras rolled from the time she walked out of the Capitol doors, I observed her seemingly pausing to take it all in. I can only imagine her trying to absorb the significance and weight of the moment she was creating, taking account of both the incremental and arduous progress of the past that led her there and all the work yet to go. When she looked into the eyes of Michelle Obama, I had to think of all those militia members who stormed the Capitol two weeks prior and their counterparts; they may hate women, people of color, and any combination of diversity altogether, but they did not win.

Her day came. Unafraid, Harris stepped out of the shade into the sunlight which shone bright upon her face as she took her Oath of Office.

More women will follow each of these trailblazers of our time. There is much work to do and progress to make, but in Harris’s words, while she may be the first, she will not be the last.

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