Long history surrounds presidential inaugurations, adds significance

by Jessica Gordon
Staff

The inauguration of President Owen Williams follows a long line of ceremonies that induct a person into power or authority, and this line is nearly as old as America itself. In American history, the very first presidential inauguration took place on April 30, 1789, when George Washington took office. Only a scant five years later, Transylvania’s first presidential inauguration occurred in 1794 when Harry Toulmin assumed the office.

An inauguration generally means a person selected for a position of authority will accept the honor of leadership by standing before the crowd that chose him or her. The person will assume the office, or some kind of power, by taking of an oath in some form. For the president of the United States, the oath would be the presidential oath of office found under Article II, Section 1 in the Constitution. Williams took the symbols of authority for Transylvania’s campus, the Transylvania mace and the president’s medallion, as well as swore to follow in the footsteps of previous presidents to serve Transylvania.

Generally, the person gives an inaugural address, wherein the person states his or her intentions in gaining leadership. Inaugural addresses range in length. George Washington holds the record for the shortest inaugural address at 135 words. William Henry Harrison holds the longest at 8,445 words, according to the Senate’s website about U.S. inaugurations. President Williams landed in the middle with 2,258 words.

Yet, the length of an inauguration address is not what the audience will recall. Instead, it’s the words held within that will define the speech. Many an inaugural address has been remembered for certain quotes that left an impression on its audience.

For example, John F. Kennedy’s declaration in 1961, “And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

And also the well-known Franklin D. Roosevelt quote from 1933, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As posted on the Transylvania website in the transcript of the speech, President Williams said in his inauguration address, “To the students here today, I say think big; be ambitious; dare to change your surroundings; embrace the world’s ailments as your opportunities. … Transylvania will help you find your passion, but to be successful, you must clothe that passion with perseverance.”

The inauguration follows with a reception. For America’s new president, an inaugural luncheon occurs. Transylvania had a celebration lunch outside Haupt Plaza. Generally, the small celebration presents an opportunity for the new leader to walk around in order to receive congratulations and introduce himself to people so they can get to know him better as their leader. This interaction has generally been seen as a sign that the person in power is willing to hear out his audience, just as they were willing to hear his words not so long ago.

And of course, later on in the evening, there is the inaugural ball. Essentially, the ball acts as the larger celebration, welcoming the new leader with great fanfare.

For over two centuries, the tradition of the inauguration has taken place on both the steps of the White House and Old Morrison. With luck, the tradition will continue and bring forth shining examples of leadership dedicated to service of the people.

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