Inauguration: NU students watch history unfold

Shanika Gunaratna

Jasmyne McDonald’s African American Social and Political Life professor stepped aside Tuesday to let the nation’s first black president do the lecturing.

McDonald, a Communication freshman, is one of many Northwestern students who crowded around televisions in Norris University Center, McCormick Tribune Center, the Black House and residence halls to watch the inauguration ceremony of the 44th president.

McDonald, who now has to write a reaction paper for her class, said she needs time for the reality of President Barack Hussein Obama to sink in.

“Tomorrow will feel real,” McDonald said. “I don’t think today does.”

SESP sophomore Candise Hill, who watched the ceremony in Norris, said she was shocked at the number of students watching the event in the student center. Norris staff had to set up an extra television to accommodate the crowd, and some students had to sit on the floor, she said.

Hill said Obama’s election has made her see NU’s student community in a new light.

“Everyone has been really hopeful,” she said. “It’s helped me realize that perhaps we’re more united than I thought.”

In watching the inauguration, Medill graduate student Colleen Maley said she was surprised Obama made a rational, not emotional, appeal in his speech. Still, she said she reacted viscerally to other parts of the ceremony, crying when California Sen. Diane Feinstein spoke.

“Realizing the enormous significance of the day made me emotional,” she said.

Maley, who moved to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, said she will be particularly mindful of the new administration’s approach to rebuilding that city.

“The city really needs a lot of help,” she said. “I know it’s an afterthought at this point because it’s been so long. But personally, that’s on my radar: whether Obama will feel a renewed responsibility to help not just New Orleans, but other cities.”

Maley, 25, said she also has been looking forward to former President George W. Bush leaving office for years. Bush, who closed his second term with a 22 percent approval rating, has been in office for most of her adult life.

“1-20-09 seemed so far away, and now it is today, ” she said. “I’m glad Bush is not the focus of what’s going on anymore.”

Medill graduate student Deepa Sethu said she felt bad, in part, for Bush, and was glad no one at the McCormick Tribune Center, where she watched the ceremony, jeered at him.

“Let a man go with dignity,” she said.

As an Indian citizen, Sethu said the inauguration ceremony, the first she had ever watched, struck her as a uniquely American event.

“I actually feel a sense of regret that an equivalent ceremony in India would not have the same mass unity – especially the youth would not watch it,” she said. “I think it’s great that politics actually trickles down to the youth (in the United States).”

McDonald said she also noticed how this inauguration has resonated with young people. Before the ceremony, McDonald spent her morning tutoring students at Dewey Elementary School with a group of Zeta Phi Beta sorority members.

The inauguration was on all of the children’s minds, she said.

“A couple of little girls said, ‘Is that Barack Obama on your shirt?'” McDonald said. “It’s interesting that every kid knows his name, knows his face, knows who he is – kids who can’t probably spell their own names.”

McDonald, who hopes one day to be a community organizer, said her post-graduation plans now feel more palpable because they mirror the president’s biography.

“I think he made it more of a possibility, more realistic,” McDonald said. “I can actually do that.”

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