INSIDE THE INAUGURATION
Published in the Casper Journal January12, 2011
I can think of a lot of words to describe the Wyoming State Inauguration last week: interesting, invigorating, inspiring, informational; but the word that describes the inaugural events best is intimate.
I often forget this is “small-town” Wyoming. So, when I received a personal phone call from one of the newly-elected officials, inviting me to the inauguration, I was a bit surprised. We’ve lived in several other states longer than the two years we’ve been in Wyoming, but have never had a personal invite to any statewide special events.
On Inauguration Day, we woke up early and made the two hour trip to Cheyenne. Having been to Cheyenne only a few times before, I remembered again what a beautiful drive it is. Arriving at the Cheyenne Civic Center, we parked next to a huge trailer labeled, “Homeland Security.”
“We’d better leave everything in the car, to avoid a long security check,” my husband suggested. “Good idea,” I agreed. Coming from Las Vegas, we were sure that any huge event would involve heavy security, metal detectors, perhaps even being frisked. With just a small notebook and pen in my pocket (we even left our cell phones and overcoats in the car), we followed the hurrying crowd to the building.
As we walked inside, we were greeted not by a stern security guard, but by a friendly usher. “That was easy,” I breathed. The security was there, but in a protective, comfortable manner.
We immediately saw one, two, three… several people we knew! Everyone was checking in overcoats at the desk, and carrying large purses, cameras, cell phones, etc.
“It’s not as tightly secured as we anticipated,” murmured my husband. Entering the large auditorium, we were surprised to find that seating was open, and immediately found seats toward the front with a good view of the stage.
Looking around us, we saw some people dressed to the hilt, while others wore jeans and cowboy boots. “Welcome to Wyoming,” whispered my husband. Everyone was talking, laughing and meeting up with old friends. The atmosphere felt comfortable. Casual, but electric.
The program started, the audience hushed, and the candidates entered, escorted by spouses or a parent. The color guard presented the flag and the audience rose. A great swelling seemed to leap from the crowd as we listened to The Star Spangled Banner. It was incredible. “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” rang truer than ever as I glanced around at the free, proud, comfortable, down-home audience. No pretense here. No façade or fake patriotism. Just regular people: ranchers, teachers, cowboys—honoring their next governor.
A dignified Reverend prayed for the new officials to have “sound judgment,” and included a blessing on “all of us, not to forget You.” Amen.
When the officers were sworn in, the intimate feeling was still present. When the candidates naturally stumbled over a few words during their oaths of office, the audience murmured pleasantly; when they held their family Bibles, everyone nodded their approval.
Governor Mead’s address was simple. No flowery oration or stirring campaign promises; just a regular man, who had become governor through the support of regular friends and everyday people. In his words, “Wyoming has the kind of people envisioned by the Founding Fathers; we take care of ourselves and each other.”
Afterwards, the crowd massed into the capitol building. We waited outside on the steps in the freezing wind, until we could squish into the rotunda with the hundreds of other well-wishers. Still, the feeling was intimate. Laughing, talking, catching up with old friends, and nearby, a new governor and his wife, greeting everyone personally. “This is Wyoming,” said my husband again.
Sandwiches, a fun chat with Al Simpson, a recognizable nod and handshake from the senators, a hug from Cindy Hill, becoming acquainted with several state legislators, and a quick trip through the capitol to see what we could. The day was memorable.
Later, we chatted with our friends in another state. “Oh, yes, attended the inauguration today. Met a dozen more legislators, traded stories with the elected officials, saw lots of people we knew.”
Once again, people in Vegas wouldn’t believe it. People in New York, or Seattle, or Detroit wouldn’t believe it. This is Wyoming. Interesting, informative, invigorating and inspiring. But most of all, intimate.
Nettie Francis is Editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine