An Inaugural like no other: virtual Parade Across America made the best of the strange circumstances

Washington DC - The Inauguration Day festivities had a very different feel to them this year.

Heavy security stands guard along Pennsylvania Avenue, normally the parade route, on Inauguration Day
Heavy security stands guard along Pennsylvania Avenue, normally the parade route, on Inauguration Day  © imago images / UPI Photo

While the day was historic for many reasons – the first woman vice president in US history was sworn into office – not all the changes were worth celebrating.

For one, the heavy security around the US Capitol at the swearing-in ceremony was impossible to overlook.

Then there was the parade, which usually allows thousands of Americans to crowd together on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, hoping for a chance to see the newly sworn-in president and vice president drive by in their motorcade on their way to The White House, followed by joyful performances by various marching bands, drill teams, and color guards.

This year, the streets around the presidential motorcade were empty, except for the National Guard, DC Police officers, and numerous Secret Service agents.

Although both President Joe Biden and Vice president Kamala Harris had their alma maters represented among the marching bands that performed admirably, without the cheers of a crowd, the magic seemed to be missing.

Parade Across America echoes Biden's theme of unity

Biden often veered off-route to greet reporters and supporters lining Pennsylvania Avenue.
Biden often veered off-route to greet reporters and supporters lining Pennsylvania Avenue.  © imago images / ZUMA Wire

One moment that will stand out for years to come was President Biden and his family opting to travel the last leg of their journey to The White House by foot, with the president running to the sides of the streets to bump elbows with a handful of people he had come to know over the years. Secret Service had to constantly scramble behind him to make sure he was protected during his spontaneous detours.

In an attempt to make up for the noticeable departure from a traditional inauguration day, a virtual event hosted by Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn, who ironically played the role of a president on the show, filled the void.

Hardly anyone knew what to expect from the Parade Across America, given the very little detail that was shared about the logistics of it. It turned out to be a compilation of video clips of various groups, organizations, foundations, and local heroes from each state and territory in the United States, along with a dozen celebrity cameos.

The Parade Across America had a general theme that echoed President Biden’s speech after being sworn in: to get America united.

Individual moments shine through

Andra Day performing her single Rise Up, in a video that also featured young ice-skater Kaitlyn Saunders.
Andra Day performing her single Rise Up, in a video that also featured young ice-skater Kaitlyn Saunders.  © Screenshot/YouTube/Biden Inaugural Committee

There were two stand-out moments of the broadcast.

The first was a segment featuring one of the four local heroes highlighted in the broadcast, 12-year-old trumpet player Jason Zgonc who represented Georgia. During the summer of 2020, Zgonc visited the front entrance of Emory Hospital in his hometown of Decatur, Georgia for 100 days, playing his trumpet for nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers at the hospital during their breaks in an effort to bring a little light to their days in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zgonc played a trumpet duet with Ethan Bensdorf, the New York Philharmonic trumpet player who inspired the young boy to take up the instrument. Before their performance, Zgnoc told America, and anyone else watching, "It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can make your community better."

Then came Andra Day's time to shine. The star sang her inspirational single, Rise Up, from a rooftop in Hollywood while 9-year-old Kaitlyn Saunders performed a gorgeous skating routine on Black Lives Matter Plaza.

In 2020, a video of Saunders performing a skating routine she choreographed on Black Lives Matter Plaza to the tune of Day’s Rise Up went viral, offering a glimmer of hope and just the right amount of inspiration at a time when Americans needed it most.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, Day shared her gratitude for the opportunity with Good Morning America, saying that she thinks this is a moment for healing: “It’s overdue for America. I’m honored to be a part of this.”

Although this Inauguration Day was an unusual one in unprecedented times, it did its best to set the tone for what Americans can only hope is the path to better days ahead.

Cover photo: imago images / UPI Photo

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