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Ambrosian is Witness to History

January 2009


Wanting to be there as history was being made, St. Ambrose Board of Trustees member Tom Higgins ’67 traveled from San Francisco across the country to Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 20.

In his own words, Higgins, who is the co-founder and director of Prosetta Corporation—a biopharmaceutical company in San Francisco—relates the emotions he experienced, and what it was like to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of his fellow Americans on that auspicious day.

What were some of your feelings during the inaugural ceremony?

“For me, it was a mixture of pride and nostalgia—pride in what an amazing country we have. It's not just that we were inaugurating the first African-American president, it was the tremendous spirit that you could see reflected in the millions of people who came to see this.

“It was also more than a little nostalgic. I thought about my years at St. Ambrose. When I was in college, there was this remarkable group of priests on the faculty. They were social justice pioneers and connected deeply with the community. I was mindful of it especially when President Obama gave his inaugural address. He made a point of talking about responsibility and community service. I thought back on how tenacious and courageous people like Jack Smith were to desegregate the Quad Cities. It was such a learning experience for students at the college. I don't know that in their wildest dreams they thought that, 45 years later, we'd have an African-American president. These things tied together in a way that was quite striking.”

Describe the scene of millions of people gathered on the Mall.

“There was incredible diversity, and I don't mean just racial diversity. It was diversity in geography, age, wealth…It was a mosaic of America. There are very few places in the world where this kind of peaceful transition could take place and where people could not only exist harmoniously but join in a common enterprise that is the basis of hope.”

What was the most interesting moment?

“The swearing-in. When I looked around at the faces of people as the oath of office was being given, there was hardly a dry eye. It was so moving.”

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