Inauguration framed many inspiring American stories

2013-02-07T00:00:00Z Inauguration framed many inspiring American storiesOpinion by Barbara Russek Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I got a few shivers while watching President Obama's second inauguration, but they had nothing to do with the weather - it was a beautiful day in Tucson and Washington, D.C.

What gave me goosebumps was the ceremony, which took place without a hitch. Obama's slight sputter as he took the oath of office was one tiny imperfection in a magnificently orchestrated ceremony.

Even Hillary Clinton, fresh from a recent hospitalization, looked "pretty good," as one newscaster put it, holding hands with husband Bill.

James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé (despite being pre-recorded) sang fervently the patriotic songs that make one stand tall and glad to be an American. Neither they nor any other participant, from the Obama girls to the justices of the Supreme Court to the president, missed a cue. None seemed nervous, either, even in front of the roughly 800,000 in attendance, plus millions more watching on television.

Even more remarkable was that in a crowd that equaled the population of a good-size American city, there was not one major negative incident. Kudos to all the security personnel who added new meaning to the term "crowd control."

But for me, the most inspiring aspect of the inauguration was the number of participants who have already lived the words President Obama spoke that day. As he talked about the birthright of all Americans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless of circumstances, I thought of those at the podium who have overcome great obstacles - childhoods of poverty, dysfunctional home lives, being marginalized by society or a combination thereof.

To give but a few examples:

• Justice Sonia Sotomayor, of the Supreme Court, who administered the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden, spent her formative years in a tenement and then the projects in the Bronx. As she describes in her autobiography, "My Beloved World," she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 7 and had to learn to give herself insulin injections. Two years later her father died, so her mother worked long hours to support the family.

Sotomayor calls her mother, who instilled in her the importance of education, her "life inspiration."

She was drawn to the legal field after watching "Perry Mason" on television. By age 10, Sotomayor knew she wanted to be a lawyer, and she worked hard to obtain a full scholarship to Princeton University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude; she later earned her J.D. from Yale Law School.

• Kelly Clarkson was 6 when her parents' divorce broke up the family. She was separated from her siblings and lived with her mother, where she endured many financial and emotional hardships. One day when she was in seventh grade, the music teacher heard her singing in the hallway and encouraged her to try out for the choir.

In 2002 Clarkson's hard work and determination paid off. She won the first "American Idol" talent show and got a million-dollar recording contract with RCA Records.

• Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1961 to an 18-year-old white American mother and black father originally from Kenya. When Obama was an infant, his parents separated and they officially divorced in 1964. Obama Senior returned to Kenya after attending graduate school at Harvard and saw his son only once after that. He died when his son was 21.

Later, his mother married an Indonesian graduate student. In 1967, mother and son moved to Indonesia where young Barack would attend Indonesian language schools for the next four years.

Obama returned to Hawaii alone in 1971 to live with his maternal grandparents, who enrolled him in a private school. The president's mother did not play a significant role in his life for much of the next two decades. She died in 1995 at age 52. Obama earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

The day after the inauguration, my television went out, and it stayed that way for three days. I didn't feel deprived at all, for I had the rerun that played many times in my mind of Inauguration Day 2013 - a day that did our country proud.

On StarNet: Read Barbara Russek's recent columns at azstarnet.com/barbararussek

Sources: Ruth Marcus, "Sotomayor Pens a Brilliant, Unguarded Autobiography," Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 18, 2013; Wikipedia; "People in the News: Kelly Clarkson," by Laurie Collier Hillstrom; "Political Profiles: Barack Obama," by Kerrily Sapet E-mail Barbara Russek at Babette2@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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