Campus witnesses the inauguration of America’s 44th president

Carolyn Schultz

Lawrentians gathered in flocks Tuesday to watch history in the making as Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated as America’s 44th president.
It seems fitting that this inauguration comes the day after the holiday celebrating the man who predicted its happening – Martin Luther King Jr. Day was Monday. Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., eloquently agreed: “They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the Dream that once echoed across history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House.”
Over one million people came out to see the inauguration and the parade in Washington, even though the temperature was in the 20s with a wind chill that made it feel like a balmy 15 degrees. On the Lawrence campus, students stayed warm indoors, watching from houses and dorms and streaming live from the library and Wriston.
One place to watch was Riverview Lounge, at a viewing set up by LUCC. Around 200 Lawrentians, faculty and staff were in attendance. Every seat was taken, many individuals were sitting wherever they could find open floor space, and the entrance was crowded with people standing to get a glimpse of the event.
The crowd cheered enthusiastically when Obama entered the inaugural stage, after every phrase within the speeches, and vigorously after Obama swore the oath of office.
There were a few chuckles, as well, particularly when the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a Methodist minister from Alabama, started quoting James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during his benediction. The song goes: “Help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.” Even President Obama could not contain his smile.
Following the inauguration viewing in Riverview, LUCC hosted a panel of professors to lead a discussion about the inauguration and to answer students’ questions. The panel included Associate Professor Jerald Podair, an expert in race relations from the history department, as well as Professor Jason Brozek and Assistant Professor Arnold Shober, both from the government department.
With the current economic situation and the ongoing war in Iraq, not to mention other global struggles, people across the globe seem to understand the weight of the office on the new president’s shoulders. This is evident in the words of one senior, who said, “There has never been so much pressure on a new president just coming into office.”
Obama seemed optimistic, however, acknowledging in his inauguration address that America has seen rough times before and persevered. He said, “Every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.”
Reactions from those around campus in political leadership positions, regardless of their political persuasion, centered around the importance of President Obama’s bipartisan politics.
The leader of the College Republicans, Chris Hagin, said, “Hopefully Obama will … become one of the most bipartisan presidents since Reagan. Only in a bipartisan spirit … will President Obama be able to navigate through the coming months and years of murky economic and foreign policy waters.”
The leader of the College Democrats, Jim Breen, expressed sentiments along those same lines. “The most attractive aspect of Obama’s campaign has been his willingness to listen to his critics and to actually adapt his policies in an attempt to appease both sides,” said Breen. “This country has seen enough blind bipartisanship and deserves an intellectual president who is willing to surround himself with people who perhaps value conflicting ideals.”
Breen also expressed concern for Obama’s first term. “I am nervous that Americans will not see much change in the next year or so and blame that on the Obama administration,” he said. He also asks that Americans “be patient with Barack Obama and his administration. Change will come to America, but it will take longer than expected.”
When asked about her reactions to the inauguration and to President Obama, junior Kaleesha Rajamantri said it was, “farfromfruggen.” Translated from Sinhalese, this means “the best thing ever.” Rajamantri and many other international students were very enthusiastic about America’s choice for president and excited about the years to come.
Other reactions around campus were much the same as these students’. Many people expressed their excitement for the election of Barack Obama and, in the next breath, their fear of the situation he has to face. However, no matter race, ethnicity or political orientation, it seems that many on the Lawrence campus echo the words of senior Hillary Cheever who, about the inauguration of the first African American president, said, “It’s about time.