While millions of televisions tuned in to see Donald Trump take his oath to become the 45th president of the United States, the O’Neal family from south Forsyth also watched a screen. But theirs was different. If they looked close enough, behind the monitor they could actually see Trump.
Patrick and Janet O’Neal, who live in the Suwanee area of Forsyth, won a lottery to get tickets for them and their two sons to attend the inauguration in Washington D.C. from District 7 U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.
“He said, like, he wanted to help Americans. He didn’t want to separate us. He wants to bind us together and unify us and bring back the economy, bring back the jobs,” said Kirkland O’Neal, an 11-year-old Settles Bridge Elementary School student.
Kirkland said he liked seeing the “new generation of president” and seeing the past presidents who were in attendance.
One thing that stood out to him, he said, was the “different opinions of everyone.”
They passed a 1,000-person protest outside of Union Station on the way back to their hotel, which the O’Neals said was peaceful and a sign of our democracy.
“Nothing violent. Nothing like you see on the news,” said 19-year-old Harrison O’Neal, who attends the University of North Georgia in Cumming. “Regardless of my own political affiliation, I thought it was really, really cool to see the peaceful transition of democratic power willingly being transmitted onto the new president and actually getting to see that firsthand.”
Harrison, who won an oratorical contest last year for a presentation on the U.S. Constitution, said the ceremony itself was graceful, full of tradition and respect.
He said the day was special to him because he has always been interested in politics.
“The ceremony itself, being in the audience, there wasn’t too much pomp or circumstance to it,” he said. “There were a couple of decorations there, and, of course, most people were wearing patriotic colors. There were a lot of ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.
“But, overall, it was more of an emotional feeling and presence, like seeing the flags and the troops.”
He said a few people around him in the crowd started chanting against Trump but that they were escorted out by security.
“Other fellow audience members basically said, you know, ‘Get outta here. If you’re going to disrespect, just don’t do it here,’” he said. “The image you have of a Trump rally kind of translated to the inaugural audience. Nothing out of hand, but definitely a Trump audience.”
He said the president’s speech stuck with him the most.
“The overall tonality of it was different than the Trump we saw running for president … He was very respectful. He was bringing in a lot of good points,” he said. “The whole thesis of the speech was pretty much unity, and I thought that was a really good approach to take, especially now.”
The boys’ father said they stayed at a hotel about two blocks from the White House, which is inside the security zone – meaning no vehicles were allowed on the street.
“Seeing that peaceful transfer of power we keep hearing about, that was significant, and that was the difference in being there and seeing that and feeling that,” Patrick O’Neal said.
He said he considers his family “apolitical. Obviously, we’re conservative, like Forsyth County for the most part, but we’re not necessarily active participants in the political theater.”
He said wanted to take his family for the educational experience, which included taking an Amtrak train there and back just for the event.
“With the protests, it was very minimal. It was less than I expected [Friday] morning,” he said. “They were respectful – they had their cause they were preaching about … but obviously they were the minority [Friday].
“We didn’t get harassed, and we were wearing our propaganda. The TV media, they draw on that. But that’s not, in my opinion, what I’m witnessing here today. Everyone is hospitable, cordial, respectful. There’s overall joy and happiness and accepting the fact that Donald Trump is our next president.”