Wednesday night’s inauguration ceremony of Gov. Janet Mills showcased a variety of Maine artists and the arts, from a Franklin County fiddle band to a recitation of an original poem from Maine’s former poet laureate. Yet the performance that stole the show and swept social media was a song performed by a pair of fifth graders from Portland’s Reiche Elementary School.
Shy Paca, 11, and Natalia Mbadu, 10, looked a bit nervous as they took the stage on Wednesday night to perform at Mills’ inauguration. But as soon as they began to belt out the chorus of Alicia Keys’ anthem “Girl on Fire,” the crowd at the Augusta Civic Center erupted, with Mills dancing and cheering the two girls on from behind.
Social media exploded, with Mainers sharing the performance across Twitter and Facebook. For Paca and Mbadu, the experience was unforgettable, too. Mbadu came to Maine from Angola three years ago. Paca, meanwhile, says she only arrived in the United States last April from Namibia. Both love to sing, and in their new country, they joined a vocal group at the Boys & Girls Club of Portland.
That’s where the governor met Paca, while touring the club last summer, according to a press release from the Mills campaign. After hearing the duo sing, the governor asked them to perform at her inauguration. Mbadu says up until Wednesday night, she was wracked with worry — until she saw the governor.
“I was pretty nervous the whole way through,” she says. “But when I saw her, it changed the whole thing. And I was very excited.”
Paca says it was empowering to perform a song that recognizes the achievement of women while celebrating the inauguration of Maine’s first woman governor.
“And performing that song made me feel like I can become anything I want. It doesn’t matter what the world’s going to say. I don’t care about the world. I will just do what I want to do, and follow my dreams,” she says.
And that was the reassuring message they got back from thousands of people at the Civic Center and beyond.