Inaugural euphoria joined with the somber commemoration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday as the nation’s capital embarked on a day of reflection and service less than 24 hours before Barack Obama will become the 44th president.
Sundown would bring more parties and a final countdown to Tuesday’s inaugural extravaganza. But during the daytime hours Monday, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden focused on the power of King’s example on the day before Obama would live out a dream the civil rights leader could have hardly imagined.
"As we honor that legacy, it's not a day just to pause and reflect - it's a day to act," Obama said in a statement. "I ask the American people to turn today's efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities and their country."
The day's theme was the honor of service - and also that the nation will have to serve together in order to meet the daunting challenges Obama's administration must face.
Obama's first stop was an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with injured troops - 14 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Later in the morning, the president-elect stopped by Sasha Bruce House, an emergency homeless shelter for teens. He said that given the "crisis" the nation is facing, "everybody's going to have to pitch in." And he said Americans are "ready to do that."
Using a roller, Obama painted a wall at the shelter, and afterward said: "I think I've got this wall covered." He also quipped: "This is good practice ‘cause I’m moving to a new house tomorrow.”
In emphasizing the value of work and a job well done, Obama said he had spoken recently with the pilot who safely landed a disabled airliner in the Hudson River, US Airways Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger.
"He said, 'Me and my crew, we were just doing our job.' And it made me think, if everybody did their job - whatever that job was - as well as that pilot did his job, we'd be in pretty good shape," Obama said. Sullenberger, his crew and family were invited by Obama to attend Tuesday's inauguration.
Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, meanwhile, visited RFK Stadium where people were at work wrapping care packages and writing letters to troops overseas.
At lunchtime, Michelle Obama joined her husband at Calvin Coolidge High School, where the couple greeted 300 people who were writing letters to U.S. troops and doing other volunteer activities. Obama thanked them for following King's example of service.
"If we're waiting for somebody else to do something, it never gets done," said Obama. "We're going to have to take responsibility, all of us. This is not just a one-day affair."
As for himself, Obama said, "I am making a commitment to you as your next president that we are going to make government work."
Monday evening, the social swirl begins again, with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden hosting the Kids' Inaugural, a concert honoring military families. Joe Biden will be honored at a dinner in Union Station. And Barack Obama will attend three private dinners: the event to honor Biden; a dinner for former Secretary of State Colin Powell and a gathering to salute Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama’s presidential opponent last year.
The city mirrored a sense of a calm before the storm Monday, as residents savored their final few hours of relatively free access to their normal routines before bridge and street closures and an iron curtain of security measures begin to be put into place.
Many of the legions of Obama faithful and curiosity-seekers thronging the city were still buzzing Monday about Sunday’s main event - a gala afternoon concert at the Lincoln Memorial attended by Obama and Biden and witnesed by hundreds of thousands who crammed the National Mall. Many waited for as long as six hours to jam the long stretch from the Memorial to the Washington Monument and then beyond toward the Capitol.
A parade of musical stars and celebrities paid homage to Obama’s impending inauguration, an event that is being viewed as nothing short of a turning point in American history. The instantly iconic moment: Bruce Springsteen singing "The Rising" backed by a red-robed gospel choir.
"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama told the enormous crowd. "I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our fundamental resolve as a nation.
"But despite all of this — despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead — I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure — that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."
The starpower focused on official Washington was unprecedented. "The best of our nation. We've elected the best. It was a great American moment," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said of the concert.