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Pride And Excitement At Howard University, Harris' Alma Mater

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET

The sounds of base drums, cymbals and helicopters all rang out Wednesday morning through a main quad at Washington D.C.'s Howard University, Vice President Harris' alma mater.

Harris' face adorned one of the famous alumni banners at the historically black university on Inauguration Day as some student members of the university's Showtime Marching Band — the drum line and dance and flag squads — prepared to participate in the inaugural parade.

The campus has been quiet, because of the coronavirus pandemic and extra Inauguration Day security. Still, spirits are high. The students are set to escort Harris and perform a "special drum cadence," the university said.

Some performers said it's the first time they've been in the nation's capital during Inauguration Day. They said they feel honored to be part of this historic event Wednesday.

"I'm really excited just to be here," said Ayanna Snead, a junior from Philadelphia who is part of a dance group that will perform in the parade.

The Howard University Showtime Marching Band prepares before the inaugural parade.
Alina Selyukh / NPR
The Howard University Showtime Marching Band prepares before the inaugural parade.

She's also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the sorority that Harris is a part of, and calls Harris a "big sister." "It just means more than the world that I have this opportunity to be there with her," Snead added. AKA has declared Wednesday to be Kamala D. Harris Day.

Harris is making history on Inauguration Day in multiple ways. She is the first female vice president of the United States. She's also the first Black person and the first Asian American to hold that office.

"I honestly can't believe it's happening," said Cheyne Thompson-Quartey, a Howard University junior and Flashy Flag Squad member. "It just means women empowerment — especially as a Black woman, especially as a Howard woman."

Thompson-Quartey said her white costume was designed specifically for this event to pay homage to Harris' signature style. She will be helping to carry the banner that leads the Howard drum line in the inaugural parade. "It's just really inspiring that we get to escort her there — we, us Black women get to escort her, a Black woman, to the White House," she said.

Howard University President Wayne Frederick offered congratulations to Harris on Inauguration Day.

"The struggles she had to endure to reach these unprecedented levels within our nation's government have blazed a trail for others to follow," he said. "We need only point to Kamala Harris when telling our children that anything they can imagine, they can achieve."

Campus bells rang 49 times at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday in honor of Harris becoming the 49th vice president.

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Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.
Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
Liz Baker