Cheers, honks and relief filled the unusually-warm Ithaca autumn air after President-elect Joe Biden officially clinched the presidency at 11:25 a.m., surpassing 270 electoral votes after winning Pennsylvania.
Cornell’s campus has been extraordinarily quiet this semester, since the coronavirus made student gatherings impermissible. But after news outlets called the election for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris Saturday morning, Cornell launched into loud celebration.
Students, half-looking down at their phones, turned to marvel: “Biden won.”
Parades of honking cars drove up and down Collegetown; some blasted “Party in the USA,” and students showed off “Fuck Trump” signs and Biden shirts through sunroofs to whoops from passersby. Reveling in the weekend announcement, students took to porch celebrations and picnics after five days of waiting and eyeing the electoral map.
some collegetown celebrations just kicking off with Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus, honks, cheers, and “fuck Trump” signs & shouts
(they’ve been driving back and forth on College Ave for quite a while now) pic.twitter.com/MQdOOxeMCe
— Maryam Zafar (@maryammzafar) November 7, 2020
Inside a bustling Collegetown Bagels, many employees including Ithaca College student Olivia Kirschbaum found out while on shift.
“When everyone was honking today, that’s when it was really setting in,” Kirschbaum said. “I was in France for the World Cup, and it feels like this is our version of that.”
“I’m just so excited,” said Danielle Mangini ’23, a Biden supporter “since day one.” Mangini, in line at CTB waiting for a Brooklyn bagel and smoothie, heard the news and began fielding a “barrage of calls” from her mom and her friends.
Sitting beside Mangini on a stone bench, Daniela Rodriguez-Chavez ’23 digested the news as she munched on her bagel. “I am so relieved this is over,” she said. “The fear mongering had to stop, and enough people realized to not give into fear.”
“This whole week has been so stressful,” Mangini continued. “Now that this burden is lifted off of my shoulders, I’m so happy.”
Despite the pandemic, celebratory events have already cropped up in Ithaca. On the Commons, activists from the Just Democracy Coalition had planned a “Protect the Ballot Count” rally — but it has since turned into a celebration, despite the continued “work that needs to be done,” said organizer Joanna Green.
About 200 people gathered around 1 p.m. at the Bernie Milton pavilion, where activists stressed the need to not settle and to continue holding power accountable. They referenced ongoing experiences of racism and Biden’s involvement in American oppressive systems, in between music and dance party breaks.
Back on campus, students lounged on Libe Slope from hammocks and picnic blankets, reflecting on the news and soaking up the 60-degree November weather. A small group set up hoops on the Arts Quad, holding brooms for their socially-distanced quidditch practice.
“Since Tuesday night, I’ve been really uneasy,” Melissa Bogellus ’22 said with a quidditch broom tucked under her legs. “Everytime I woke up, I checked The New York Times count. Yesterday, Georgia and Pennsylvania had flipped blue.”
By noon, McGraw Tower chimed with “Old Town Road” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” closing off with an extended alma mater, sounding across campus as the Cornell community soaked up the news.
A group of students gathered on Libe Slope around 1 p.m. for a picnic they had planned — but once they found out, their charcuterie boards and iced coffee became a celebration not of the warm weather but of the president-elect.
Down the hill, two more students reflected on the election and the “happy atmosphere” of campus.
“I wasn’t too invested in the election, but I voted for Biden, and I’m happy he won,” said Fedor Merkulov ’23, who has U.S. citizenship but grew up exclusively in the United Kingdom. He sat with Daniel Wallace ’23, who just returned from voting in Brooklyn, New York.
Delilah Hernandez ’22 was about to step into the shower when she first learned the election results from the whole community GroupMe, a group chat for the Cornell community of color, relief washed over her.
“When Trump was elected, there was already this kind of permission for some people to be racist,” Hernandez said. “I already felt like a lot of my communities were just talking about what it means to be a minority in these predominantly white institutions, and a lot of the times we would just share how we felt ousted or not really heard. In the grand scheme of things, I hope in the future, we can at least feel like we are being heard.”
But some students aren’t relieved at all. In fact, while some hugged and celebrated with friends, others said they didn’t believe the results of the election that have been called by every major news outlet.
“I don’t accept that at all,” said Joe Silverstein ’22, editor-in-chief of the conservative publication The Cornell Review, before cataloguing a list of common and debunked conspiracy theories about the election endorsed by President Trump, including deceased people voting in Nevada, a design software problem and false Michigan votes.
Echoing the sentiments of Trump and some conservatives across the country, Silverstein said the election was both “illegitimate” and “fraudulent,” calling for the Supreme Court’s involvement and a recount.
But Cornell Republicans president Weston Barker ’21 dismissed such theories, saying it was clear that Biden was the President-elect. He highlighted gains for the Republican Party in the House of Representatives and called the moment an opportunity for “a culture of renewed bipartisanship.”
“This election has been an incredibly divisive one,” Barker said. “Now, more than ever, it’s time for us to come together as a nation and ensure that the transfer of power is smooth and easy, as it has always been.”
The 2020 election’s results were markedly different from 2016, which saw a stunned student body gathering for a cry-in event when Trump won. This year, students exhaled at Trump’s loss.
“My only reaction is ‘yay.’ I don’t know, I don’t have words,” said Isabel O’Connell ’23, studying for a nutritional studies prelim in Upson Hall when news broke. “I’m just so happy.”
After a week of switching tabs between Zoom and the electoral map, students on edge the news would break in the middle of the night or in the shower, an overwhelming sight of relief stretched across campus — the election was over.
Asha Patt ’23, Caroline Johnson ’22, Ari Dubow ’21 and Amanda H. Cronin ’21 contributed reporting.