WASHINGTON - A man's voice thundered through the crowd in Greenbelt Metro Station in Maryland where hundreds waited - not all of them patiently - to buy their Metro passes on Sunday evening.
"I was there in '63 for the March on Washington," he said, "when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his 'I have a dream' speech." He paused. "And I'm here again to see the dream come true."
People smiled and laughed, applauded and cheered.
Two days later, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.
Obama's ascent into the highest reaches of national politics was the continuation of a much longer, and larger, story. And though classes were to begin the next morning, many Brown students were in the nation's capital, eager for a glimpse of history.
"Definitely everyone in my parents' generation - they just feel a sense of, like, shock," Doug Eacho '11 said. Obama's inauguration, he said, held a greater significance for people who had grown up thinking there would never be a black president.
"No one ever sensed that this would happen in their lifetimes," he said.
Eacho became a part of the President's long journey to the White House when he began to volunteer for the Obama campaign over a year ago. But much has changed since October 2007. The need for a change in administration has become more urgent, Eacho said, with the current state of the economy.
He added, though, "I think now people's expectations are more tempered."
Providence Mayor David Cicilline '83, who was also in Washington for the inauguration, said the foreclosure crisis, Rhode Island's high unemployment rate and the state's large budget deficit were "serious challenges that have developed over the last eight years and won't be resolved overnight."
But some are waiting for change to come sooner.
Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 said expectations for the changing administration influenced the design of Rhode Island's fiscal year 2009 supplemental budget, released on Saturday, which attempted to avoid a $151-million budget deficit.
He said he would be monitoring the outcome of the new president's federal stimulus plan carefully.
Carcieri named the economy as the most important issue facing the nation today. "Every governor - whether you're Republican or Democrat - you're dealing with the same issues," he said. "We've got to stabilize the slide, stabilize the economy, stabilize this job loss."
But, as Cicilline said, "We are inaugurating a president who will lead us during this incredibly difficult time."
Tuesday's crowds seemed to agree. An estimated two million people, according to CBS News, rushed to the ceremony - Elizabeth Elliott '11 among them. Even with standing-room tickets, she waited in line for more than two-and-a-half hours to see a half-hour of the swearing-in ceremony.
"It was chaotic," she said. "You just had no idea what was happening at all."
But even in the chaos and crush of the crowd, a patiently optimistic spirit prevailed.
"People were nice, for the most part," Elliott said.
The unity among strangers resonated with many in attendance. The inauguration, Carcieri said, was "reaffirming about us as a nation."