This story was originally published in Newsday on January 21, 2009
They began arriving before the sun came up, the cold air thick with anticipation, excitement and expectation long before the security gates at the National Mall opened. Students and seniors spent hours just trying to get to their chairs - or even a patch of grass.
A sea of more than a million people, some standing two miles from the steps of the Capitol, withstood frigid weather for hours, screaming "O-BA-MA" and waiting to be part of history.
When the moment finally came, every second swelled with the emotional impact of music, blessings and poetry. There were some taunts for outgoing President George W. Bush, and Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled a bit over the oath of office. But, yes, at noon, Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States of America - the nation's first black commander in chief.
A serious President Obama spoke of tough times and the potential for a bright future, suggesting "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
It was a day of hope and renewal, though tinged with concern for the health of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who collapsed into convulsions during lunch, and for the stock market, which fell 332 points.
Amid it all, there was a telling moment. In a quiet room in the Capitol building, after Obama signed his first presidential papers, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said quietly and simply: "Thank you, Mr. President."
The inaugural parade and balls would follow into the evening, and the crowds were still cheering and dancing outside. But inside, the work was already beginning.