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Kemal Atkins, vice provost for Student Affairs, his wife, Julia, and 16-year-old daughter, Asha, had a clear view of the inauguration of President Barack Obama from their viewing section just beyond the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. Atkins and his family enjoyed an overnight visit with friends in D.C., arising early to view the historic inauguration. (Contributed photo)

Atkins Attends Historic Inauguration

By Christine Neff

While many in the ECU community watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama from home, Kemal Atkins, vice provost for Student Affairs, and his family braved the cold and the crowds to witness the historic moment in person.

Atkins, his wife, Julia, and 16-year-old daughter, Asha, were standing just beyond the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with a clear view of the Capitol Building when Obama took his oath of office.

“It was a thrill,” Atkins said. “We just had to be there. We didn’t want to think back and say we wished we had gone.”

The opportunity came by way of close friends who live in Washington, D.C. They offered the Atkins family housing for the night and tickets to the “silver” viewing section for the inauguration ceremony.

Atkins, his wife and daughter drove to D.C. the day before the inauguration. On Tuesday morning, they left their Capitol Hill apartment by 6:45 a.m., ready to make their way through security and to their viewing spot. Already, crowds had begun forming, and people were positioning themselves for a better view of the events to come.

But even with freezing temperatures and massive crowds, the mood in the city stayed festive and friendly, Atkins said.

“People were shoulder-to-shoulder and back-to-back, but it was still a good feeling. There were lots of smiles,” he said.

While waiting for the ceremony to begin, they listened to live music, danced with the crowd and met people from around the world. A family from Canada, a couple from Las Vegas and a group that spent two days traveling to attend the event all shared their stories with them. “I was kind of amazed at where people came from to see this historic event. It was truly representative of the country,” Atkins said.

The mood became more serious when the ceremony started. During Obama’s oath, the crowd wept, cheered and quietly contemplated what had just occurred. Atkins was moved by the speech that followed: “It was appropriate for the occasion. Obama knew it was a time to celebrate the historical significance of it all and a time to realize that important work needs to be done. He conveyed that.”

Atkins and his wife were especially glad to have shared the moment with their daughter, who became interested in politics during the last presidential election. “She was exceedingly excited,” Atkins said of Asha. “She had tears in her eyes.”

That excitement rubbed off on the couple’s three-year-old daughter, Kamille, too. Kamille, who stayed home with family members, asked her parents to say hello to President Obama when she talked to them on the phone.

A festive spirit could be felt throughout the city that evening and into the next day. The family met friends for dinner, and stayed in D.C. overnight. The next morning, Atkins said, Union Station was a “madhouse” with vendors selling Obama merchandise.

“Everyone wanted to have a piece of that moment, through T-shirts, hats, key chains, magnets, books, magazines, newspapers – everything,” he said.The Atkins family came home with far more than a key chain. They left with memories that will last a lifetime, and a bit of inspiration for challenging days ahead.

“It’s a very important time in the history of our country,” Atkins said. “Change has occurred, and must occur, to get us back on track. We have to address some tough issues head-on, and a lot of that starts in our homes, in our communities and where we work.”

This page originally appeared in the March 20, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at