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Tears and hope in front of the JumboTron during inauguration

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Darren and Valerie Calhoun from Memphis, Tenn. watch the JumboTron outside Planet Hollywood during President Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday morning on the Las Vegas Strip.
Photo: Justin M. Bowen

President Barack Obama seemed larger than life this morning to a crowd watching on the Las Vegas Strip.

His voice boomed from screens outside Planet Hollywood as he delivered his historic inaugural address. Small crowds of visitors gathered around the screens. Construction workers crossed the street from CityCenter to watch the event.

Miss America contestants held hands and bowed their heads in prayer during the Rev. Rick Warren's invocation.

"Where there is work, there is work to be done," Obama said as many people watching on the Strip fought back tears.

Inauguration on the Strip

Obama spoke of a mission of service -- a mission Donna Wheeler's daughter, Miss Vermont Ashley Wheeler, knows well, she said.

“Ashley’s platform is political awareness and she was a big voter registration person so for her this is the pinnacle of wrapping it all together," Donna Wheeler said.

Wheeler said activism and political involvement have always been a part of Miss Vermont’s life.

“She’s done stuff abroad with human rights and sexual servitude so human rights is a huge part of her being, and the most she thought she could contribute was to get people out there and have a voice in this election,” she said.

Wheeler’s mother, Fay Ellesworth, the grandmother of Miss Vermont, said she attended several political events years ago while living in the nation’s capital.

Inauguration Watch

“It’s just awesome. We lived in Washington, D.C., in the late 60s, early 70s, and to see the transformation is just great,” Wheeler said. “We also lived through political strife and race riots, so to see where we’ve come is amazing. “

Wheeler and Ellesworh will be joined by 50 other friends and family members for this weekend’s Miss America pageant at Planet Hollywood.

Obama spoke of a mission of service -- a mission Donna Wheeler's daughter, Miss Vermont Ashley Wheeler, knows well, she said.

“It’s emotionally overwhelming to have all this going on in the same week,” Wheeler said. “Ashley’s talent is singing and she’s going to sing ‘God Bless America,’ which just kind of brings it all together.”

In the frigid temperatures of Washington, D.C., Obama delivered a speech of unity and praise of the American spirit, but told Americans there is work to be done.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task," he said.

Most in the Strip crowd Tuesday morning described the event as two things: historic and nothing short of amazing.

“It’s such a historic moment. We were staying across the street and thought this was the appropriate place to be,” Atlanta resident Kimani Samuel said.

“It’s something amazing to be a part of. It’s going to be a big change,” said Melissa Meeks, of Tennessee.

Near the news crews and spectators stood a couple embracing, overcome with emotions. Valerie and Darren Calhoun joined in Warren’s opening prayer while Valerie choked back tears. It was the first of many emotional points in Obama’s speech for the couple.

“We own a restaurant in Memphis and had specials in honor of the election and hosted several campaign parties and participated in Rock the Vote,” Darren Calhoun said.

The Calhouns agreed: They won’t forget this day.

"I can’t even put it into words. It's just surreal," Valerie Calhoun said. "Now I know what people talk about when they say surreal. I’ve heard people say it a couple times but now I know how it feels."

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