January 21, 2009

Historic Obama Inauguration Captivates C.U.

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Students across campus witnessed the momentous inauguration of Barack Obama yesterday through live broadcasts inside and outside of the classroom. Although yesterday marked the first day of class for many courses, some were cancelled or dismissed early so students could watch the first transition of power in eight years. In other cases, professors traded their PowerPoint slideshows for live streams of the ceremony.[img_assist|nid=34264|title=A standing “O”|desc=Students pack Bailey Hall to capacity yesterday to watch Obama’s inaugural speech live.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
It has been months since fireworks were set off in Collegetown to celebrate Obama’s election, but the excitement remained for some.
“[My emotions] are now more solidified. Election Night was euphoric, but now it really did happen,” said Ann Wilde grad.
Nearly all of the 1,300 seats in Bailey Hall were filled, and the audience soaked in the energy from D.C. A live broadcast was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. As noon approached students continued to pour into the already crowded auditorium.
Cynthia Peng ’10 was one of them.
“[Bailey Hall] was really packed. There were virtually no seats left. I think Obama’s speech got through [to] the audience, and there were a lot of cheers,” Peng said.
At the same time, the usual hustle and bustle of lunch hour came to a standstill in the Ivy Room, and only the voice of the television anchor could be heard. But as the clock struck 12 and Obama officially became president, about 200 students broke into loud cheers and applause. The crowd became silent when Obama took to the podium to give his Inaugural Address.
“Everyone’s eyes were glued to the screen and everyone was extremely attentive,” said Wendy LaManque ’10, whose class was dismissed early.
About 150 students, professors and Ithacans gathered at the Africana Studies and Research Center for a celebration and discussion of the significance of the nation’s first African-American president.
“I’m elated that we have a president who looks like me. But this is only the first step. Now we’re taking little steps. If he gets re-elected then we can take more steps,” said Bomopregha Julius ’09, a student from Nigeria.
According to Prof. Robert Harris Jr., Africana studies, as a result of Obama’s election, the history of African Americans has now garnered more attention and interest, he said.
“The discussion leading up to the inauguration almost lifted a veil of African-American history,” said Harris, who stressed how the present is constructed upon the past. According to Harris, enslaved African laborers laid the bricks of the White House and helped build the city of Washington D.C., where Obama took his presidential oath yesterday.
Harris was especially impressed by how Obama has encouraged African Americans to confront history instead of hide from it. Both professors and students said they appreciated that Obama treasured his roots during the campaign.
“He is literally [what] I see myself becoming — a figure that people look up to without forgetting where [I am] from,” said Julius, who is considering a career in politics.
In a section of his speech that many students called memorable, Obama spoke of the progress that the country has made in just the past several decades.
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath,” Obama said.
Obama also addressed “real, serious and many” challenges in his Inaugural Address, including the financial crisis and the war against “violence and hatred” that America is facing.
Although most found his speech more pessimistic than his previous addresses, many appreciated his honesty to the American people.
“I enjoyed the fact that he acknowledged many issues and didn’t pretend that they weren’t there. The speech is visionary,” said Peng.
The mobilization of young people as a result of Obama’s presidency was particularly impressive, said Prof. John Turner, Africana studies.
“For people of our age, it is almost reminiscence of the young movement,” said Turner, one of the four professors who spoke at the Africana Studies and Research Center.