Local teens revel in being part of history at inauguration

It’s safe to say that for the estimated 2 million people that turned out in Washington, D.C., to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration, each one had a significant reason for braving frigid temperatures and the mobbed National Mall just to be there.

Take 19-year-old Ben Ulrey from Alameda, who watched with pride as the nation’s 44th president — the first one he was able to vote for — took office.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Ulrey said by phone after the inauguration. “It was absolutely amazing to see so many people there for one cause. I was actually watching history.

Ulrey staked out a spot in front of the Washington Monument to watch the swearing-in after attempts to squeeze into the sea of onlookers at the Mall left him without an inch to move.

A freshman at San Diego State University, Ulrey went to the inauguration with his mother, Reva Kopel, the former president of Alameda’s Temple Israel. And though they weren’t packed in tightly with the throng of attendees, Ulrey said they could feel the excitement emanating from the crowd.

“After [Obama] was inaugurated, everyone went crazy,” Ulrey said. “The whole place just erupted. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”

Observing the transition of power and seeing everyone’s reactions were among the reasons Ulrey wanted to be present. A passion for politics and the chance to tell his future children about the monumental day also made the trip worthwhile.


Ben Ulrey of Alameda (left) and friend Jake Werlin at the Washington Monument on Inauguration Day

Ulrey said seeing Congress members and the entire Supreme Court “all in one place was surreal,” and that he was also astounded by the amount of Obama souvenirs on sale. A stained-glass window bearing Obama’s name was “the coolest” piece of memorabilia he spotted.


“The city was brimming with energy,” Ulrey said. “The Capitol was completely lit up at night, and I’ve never seen it look better than that. You could feel the anticipation of it all.”

Though she isn’t old enough to vote, 13-year-old Cory Labov of Berkeley found herself in the midst of all the excitement during a five-day excursion to the nation’s capital with the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference.

An eighth-grader at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Labov was part of a contingent of 15,000 young people from across the United States. Her section of the group, however, didn’t make it to the actual inauguration because of the crowds.

“I wasn’t surprised we didn’t get in,” said Labov, who watched the ceremony on a big screen at a hotel. “But I was also very disappointed because this is why we came to D.C., to see it live. Our faculty adviser told us, ‘That’s life.’ It was still meaningful, but disappointing.”

Labov did get to hear former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Colin Powell speak, and she also attended an inaugural “ball” at the University of Maryland.

“When I saw the schedule, I couldn’t believe that we would get to hear Al Gore speak,” Labov said. “I expected him to be a great leader who’s very smart. He lived up to those expectations, maybe even exceeded them. He was amazing.”

Thirteen-year-old Parker Levinson, an eighth-grader at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, was also part of the Junior Presidential Youth group contingent. She, too, was in one of the groups that didn’t make it into the inauguration, watching it on TV instead.

Still, she said, “It was amazing to see how many people turned out to see Barack Obama. Everyone was so happy.”