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Throughout history, the U.S. has witnessed 58 inaugurations in times of celebration and ruckus.
In April 1789, two months after starting his first term, George Washington took the oath of office on Federal Hall’s balcony in New York City. Constitutional guidelines for inaugurations are sparse, offering only the date and the words of the oath. All else is driven by tradition.
After the oath is administered, the president gives an address, usually one stressing national unity. Inaugural events have become more elaborate over the years, including parades, which have evolved into spectacular entertainments.
In 1809, the fourth president, James Madison, started the traditions of a White House reception and inaugural ball. Such activities have been broadened to include a cross-section of the American population. Receptions, balls, and other public events reflect the president’s need to include many diverse groups in the transition of power, even, at times, officially sanctioned protesters. More than a celebration of one person’s rise to power, modern inaugurations validate the republic’s democratic processes, according to the White House Historical Association.
Not all inaugurations have been elaborate. FDR’s fourth presidential inauguration lasted approximately 15 minutes due to security fears and austerity, which forced a scaled-down inauguration as the U.S. entered its fourth year of fighting in World War II.
Ultimately, inaugurations have varied throughout the presidencies, but the promise to serve the American people remains constant.
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President Joseph R. Biden’s Inauguration
Beginning the inauguration ceremony was Fr. Leo O’Donovan, who led the prayer of invocation. Next, Lady Gaga walked up to the podium to perform the national anthem, dressed in black with a gold dove brooch on her coat to send a message of peace to the country.
Following her rendition of the national anthem came the pledge of allegiance led by Andrea Hall, after which Kamala Harris’ swearing-in ceremony began.
She recited the oath, upon which she officially became the first female vice president of the United States. In addition to being the first female vice president, she is also the first Black and Asian vice president, marking a historic moment in U.S. history.
Directly after, Jennifer Lopez came out to perform “This Land is Your Land, the Land of the Beautiful,” accompanied by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. Towards the end of her performance, she delivered a short, passionate speech in Spanish, directed at America’s Latinx population.
Subsequently came the swearing-in ceremony of Joe Biden. With Jill Biden on his arm and surrounded by his family members, he formally became the 46th president of the U.S.
In President Joe Biden’s inaugural address, he spoke of unity and democracy, which were themes of his presidential campaign since the Democratic National Convention.
“We come together as one nation,” Biden declared. “Democracy has prevailed … We have much to repair, much to restore, much to build, much to heal–and much to gain. But we cannot do it while divided against ourselves … My whole soul is in this—bringing America together,” he said. “It is time to end our ‘uncivil war.’”
Biden acknowledged that calls for unity in our current circumstances could sound naive, and he worked to dismiss this impression throughout his address. “The forces that divide us are real,” he said, then reminding everyone that this has often been so throughout U.S. history.
Biden further expressed the need for racial reconciliation in the U.S. and stated that he would rebuild the middle class while discussing the millions of jobs lost due to the pandemic, hoping to appeal to those who did not vote for him.
President Biden closed his address, emphasizing the importance of truth. “There is truth, and there are lies,” he said. “Lies told for profit and for power.”
Bringing an end to his address, he promised, “I will always level with you.”
Upon finishing his speech, out came Garth Brooks, who performed a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Following his performance, Amanda Gorman, the national youth poet laureate, delivered a powerful poetry reading, describing Biden’s new term as a “new dawn blooming.”
Next came Dr. Silvester Beaman, a pastor from Delaware, who delivered the inauguration benediction. This concluded the 2021 inauguration ceremony, as Biden and Harris left from their seats as President and Vice President of the United States.