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Inauguration of a Nation

January 20, 2009

I experienced a harsh and relentless reality some days as a youngster and by the time I reached high school I was full of anger and rebellion. I got into fights and other mischief and began skipping school. By my senior year, my grade point average was ridiculously low and though intellectually capable, I threw up my hands to college and figured there was no use in applying because who would accept me with such laughable grades?

But I had a teacher who encouraged me to try. I could always start at a smaller college and transfer to a larger one, she said. Her name was Jacqueline Bostic. She saw beyond what others could see—she could truly see me.

With her encouragement, I applied and was accepted to a small college of 3,000 students. The acceptance alone meant that I had a chance to change. It meant that someone believed in me and my abilities. One letter and one day changed the course of my life. I didn’t wait to begin in the fall quarter as most new students do. I began a few weeks later during the summer quarter and I never ever looked back.

A year later, I transferred to a huge school with ten times as many students. I went to school every single quarter, including summers, during my entire college matriculation. Within four years I had grown tremendously as a young woman and I had redeemed myself. By the grace of God, I created a new reality for myself, a new outlook on life, and a new belief system for what was possible. I graduated from the University of Georgia with two degrees in four years and a good grade point average. Yet I had begun college with an embarrassing grade point average and had barely been accepted. My journey to campus for my first day of college was my inauguration for a new life.

Today, this is where we stand as a nation—and as individual citizens.

Our reality has been harsh. On September 11, 2001, we experienced the most heinous and despicable expression of human dissent. Now at war for eight long years, Americans of all races, ethnicities, religious beliefs, socio-economic statuses and both genders have died or been maimed for the ideals of the United States. And in the last few months, an economic hurricane has drowned the stock market and washed away the value that many people worked years and years to build—and washed away the hope of millions of people who have been laid off or otherwise adversely affected by market conditions. Many who are still standing are quivering in fear. And there are thousands, perhaps millions, of entrepreneurs and small business owners sitting atop the proverbial roofs of their businesses waving for help as the tide of the economic fallout continues to rise.

Today is the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, and it is also our inauguration as a nation. This is our opportunity to ceremoniously strike the chords of individual, and therefore collective, change.

Our challenges are enormous but so is our faith, our intellect, our creativity and our ability if we focus for the next four years like we never have before. As we personally witness, or watch on television, today’s inauguration let us appreciate and celebrate this beautiful historical moment—and let us also think on making personal history. What do you aspire to achieve that you never have before?

Think about this: If you and I dig deep and think about what we would really like to achieve in our personal lives over the next four years and then we dig deeper to achieve it, then our personal accomplishments become collective achievement.

I’m sure there were some other students who started college struggling like me and there were others who started with great grades and yet others who were average. We all had our individual stories, backgrounds, journeys, goals and majors. We all walked that road for four years as individuals. And in 2001, when I graduated, and scores of other students graduated, our individual accomplishments became a class of people graduating together after having flexed and strengthened our intellectual abilities—and stretched and persevered to achieve our personal goals.

Today is your inauguration too. This is the inauguration of a nation that voted for change. What will you change so we can change?

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