If the inauguration of Barack Obama on Tuesday signaled anything for America, it is that anything is possible.
For so many of us who are, say, 50 years of age or more, we grew up believing that anything was possible for anyone regardless of race, religious beliefs, economic background, physical handicap or so many other obstacles, perceived or real.
Children of the 1950s, 60s and 70s have witnessed a number of historic firsts we never thought we'd see. Among the first was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, followed by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. almost five years later. Then came the space race and the first orbit of the earth's atmosphere, followed by space flights that put men on the moon and women at the controls of the space shuttle.
In 1989 we saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, that iconic symbol of the Cold War, and just seven years ago we witnessed perhaps the most unthinkable of realities when terrorists attacked our country on Sept. 11, 2001.
For those who experienced these and so many other historic feats, the one we weren't sure we'd see was a black American elected to the presidency. The election of Barack Obama on Nov. 4, 2008, and his inauguration on Nov. 20, 2009, were unbelievable, unforgettable and significant beyond measure both historically and socially.
2008 was a tipping point in American history for a couple of reasons. The first is that, at the very minimum, a woman stood to be elected either president or vice president if the cards fell just right, or a black man would be elected. The social significance of what we saw last year was this: If we truly were - and are - ready for the kinds of real and lasting change that all Americans believe must occur, either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama would have to have been elected president, regardless of political party.
Obama's election represents change on more levels that we can yet comprehend, and we'll see over a period of weeks and months just what that looks like. This new president has before him a program of work as challenging and as enormous as any president in more than two generations. Our ailing economy needs healing. Our system of health care needs overhauling. Out-of-work Americans, now numbering in the millions, need employment. Education needs dramatic reform. The war in Iraq needs an end in sight. And in the immediate short term, America needs sustainable hope.
Obama comes into office with the highest pre-inaugural approval rating of any president in history, while his predecessor leaves with the lowest rating in history. That, too, tells us just how much work Obama and his leadership team have ahead of them and how important it is for cool heads and sound decisions to prevail.
During his campaign and since his election, Obama has established himself as a man of purpose, of character, of principle, of vision and of unique ability. He looks the part, he acts the part and, since the day after his election, he has taken ownership of the challenges at hand as if he reported to work that very day. Well, Tuesday was his day and the job is now his.
America has long awaited change of this magnitude. Let us now hope we're ready for what lies ahead.