Magazine On-line [spring 2009]
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Around the Campus

students watching inauguration

Campus gathers for inauguration watch party

An overflow crowd gathered in the William T. Young Campus Center canteen on January 20 to witness the historic televised inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president and its first of African-American descent.

More than 75 students, faculty, and staff members began gathering at 11 a.m. to follow the pomp and circumstance leading up to the oath of office just after noon. Feeling a connection to the spirit of the moment even at a far distance from the nation’s capital, audience members stood while Obama recited the oath and applauded at the end of his speech. The event was sponsored and organized by the Student Government Association’s Civic Engagement Committee. Many others watched the ceremony at various locations around campus.

Students involved in organizing the watch party, others in attendance, and students in general expressed a range of views about the significance of the event in the nation’s social and political history, and to themselves personally.

Emily Evans, a first-year student from Springfield, Tenn., spoke of the event as a sign of progress for the nation:
“I think this inauguration means so much for the country. It shows how far we’ve come, and that there is real hope in the future for a colorblind nation. It gives me hope as a young woman that people can move past old biases and give those who have been oppressed in the past opportunities to do great things.”

Lee Richardson, a first-year student from Nicholasville, Ky., was already looking forward to the Obama presidency:
“While watching the inauguration, I was overwhelmed with a number of emotions: excited by the historical significance of the first African American serving as president of the United States, yet also anxious to see the materialization of Obama’s platforms. Inauguration day left me with a renewed sense of patriotism, as well as a feeling of eagerness to see us ‘pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.’”

Brandi Giles, a junior from Louisville, pointed to the breaking down of racial prejudice the inauguration represents:
“This inauguration has meant so much to me based on the good I feel it will do and has done for black people. Of course our president is going to benefit all people during his administration, but I feel like the hope he has given to the black community is huge. We’ve all been haunted by the preconceptions most have about black people. So to see a black man who has fought against all of the stereotypes come to occupy arguably the most powerful office in the world, that feat serves as an example that anything is possible for us as long as we work hard at it.”

Ayesha Siddiqi, a first-year student from Lexington and a watch party coordinator, sounded a note of pride, tempered by caution:
“As proud as I am of America for electing Barack Obama, we, as a nation, need to be very much aware of the cult of personality surrounding him. Being blessed with a democracy bestows certain responsibilities upon us as citizens, the utmost of which is constant vigilance. It is crucial for our ability to evaluate President Obama’s decisions with sound judgment.”

Josh Edge, a first-year student from Owensboro, Ky., also an organizer of the watch party, saw progress from the evidence of his own family:
“I know my grandparents can remember segregation and a racist South. Today, though, it seems that much of that hatred has dissipated. I think this inauguration shows that Americans have stopped dichotomizing this county into ‘we’ and ‘they,’ but rather, the country can simply call itself ‘us.’ Furthermore, it shows that we are one step closer to breaking down that imaginary line separating so-called ‘first-class citizens’ from ‘second-class citizens.’”

Political science professor Don Dugi saw the inauguration in a global perspective:
“This is a landmark election, not only for a country with a distressing history of racism, but for the world as well. The positive reaction to this election around the world is unbelievable.”

The inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president gave special significance to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrated the day before. Transylvania students and others from the campus community took part in a number of service projects, including “Thank the Troops,” a joint effort of Transylvania and LEXfusion that resulted in thank you notes being written by Transy students and Lexington youth for delivery to military personnel serving overseas.

Another project, which rated a mention on National Public Radio, was an effort by Transy, Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, the Central Kentucky Association of Volunteer Administrators, and the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross to create 600 emergency kits to distribute to senior citizens in downtown Lexington.

“I was really pleased at how Transy students stepped up,” said Karen Anderson, coordinator of community service and civic engagement. “We had 170 students involved as volunteers.”

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