Micheal Eric Dyson, LaLa Anthony, Terrence J and Roland Martin
Micheal Eric Dyson, LaLa Anthony, Terrence J and Roland Martin during inauguration weekend. (Photo: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—Fifteen Howard University freshmen shared an experience of a lifetime on Monday as they witnessed President Barack Obama being sworn in to his second term.

“We were just so excited to be here,” said Hayley Vaughn, 18. She and her dorm mates made the trek over to Capitol Hill early in the morning before waiting for the inaugural parade to start.

“It really means a lot to be able to witness this twice, because I know some people who would never dream of this happening again,” she said. The 2012 election was the first in which these friends had ever voted, making them feel like they took part in helping make history.

“It means a lot to have this opportunity that so many people would cherish and do cherish now,” Vaughn said.

“I couldn’t wait to vote,” said Cheryn Moore. Celebrating her 19th birthday on Inauguration Day, she said witnessing the second inauguration, “proves that the president actually did something in his first term and people believed that he would do well in his second term.”

The sheer excitement of these youths mixed well with the colorful range of emotions various celebrities exhibited in reaction to the start of President Obama’s second term. In town to witness his swearing-in on Monday, these luminaries were just as enthusiastic and looking forward with great expectancy.

Yet, some noted with caution that we can’t get just caught up in good feelings.

The hesitancy felt by some was not at all evident in Terrence J. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” the E! news anchor told theGrio. “A lot of us didn’t even think we would ever live to see an African-American president, so to be here for the second inauguration, it’s just really amazing.”

During the 2012 presidential race, many questioned Obama’s ability to regain the presidency, because of  neck-in-neck polls, pressing economic issues and some dissatisfaction with his leadership.

Yet, actor-comedian-singer Wayne Brady praised Obama for retaining the presidency in the midst of these troubles. “Now, that wasn’t a fluke! That was just God and skill and providence all working in perfect unison.”

Brady’s happiness about Obama’s inauguration stretches beyond just personal satisfaction. “I’m not even happy for myself. I’m happy for my mom. My mom turn[ed] 82, so my mother has seen a black president elected back-to-back in her lifetime, when she went through the Civil Rights struggle,” Brady said.

Actress LaLa Anthony said she was in complete shock when Obama won the 2008 election, and still is after seeing him win in 2012. “I’m just happy to be alive to see this. It’s just a moment I know I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. In my mind, this president can do no wrong! I’m just happy, honestly, that he’s going to have four more years to finish some of the things he started.”

For actor Charles Dutton, Obama’s second inauguration commemorates a simple, but powerful right granted to almost all Americans — the privilege of voting the young people from Howard so powerfully appreciated.

“[Because of ] my hell-raising days in the sixties and seventies, the first time that I was allowed to vote, being from the state of Maryland, was in the 2008 election,” he said. “In the state of Maryland, you could not vote if you had a criminal record until 2007.”

Voting for Dutton must be a dream come true. Many described Obama’s first and second inaugurations as Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream realized. Author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson noted about this theme, “the question is, how do we make certain that the historic legacy of the Civil Rights Movement continues to be talked about, [as] we continue to represent those who are most vulnerable, the poor, the voiceless, those who are more marginal in our society, those who don’t have a seat at the table or a voice in the quorum?”

The MSNBC analyst continued by saying: “In my estimation, we have to leverage the beauty and symbolism and power of this moment into the substance of public policies that have an impact on the most vulnerable people in America. We’ve got to move from symbolism to substance and from celebration to strategy.”

Top political analyst Roland S. Martin agreed. “We ought to enjoy the moment, but not get lost in the moment,” he said. “If we had gotten lost in the moment of Aug. 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, there would not have been a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act in ’64 and ’65.

“The question then becomes, ‘What do we get, what do we demand, what do we want to see.’ And as long as we get so caught up in the parades and the parties, we lose perspective [on] what happens after,” Martin concluded.

Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.

E! and MSNBC are both owned by NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of theGrio.