People began to gather as early as 9 a.m., bringing breakfast and homework to safeguard seats as inaugural proceedings unfolded.
By 10:45—15 minutes before Obama took his oath of office—students crowded every available seating location, with armchairs holding as many as four people, and viewers hanging over the second-floor railings. All eyes were directed at the projection in the front of the room, reminiscent of two months ago when a similar crowd watched Obama’s election.
“I’m really happy I’m here right now,” freshman Elana Abraham said. “I’m glad that I’m watching it with a bunch of people. It’s really cool how involved Wash. U. is with politics.”
Many students were dismissed from class early to watch the proceedings, while others decided to ditch their lectures and seminars.
Sophomore Bennet Goeckner, who noted an increase in political activity this year with the election, said he hopes enthusiasm will endure after the thrill of the historic inauguration yesterday.
“It’s nice to have a community,” he said. “It’s almost unreal what’s going on. After this, it will kind of fade away, but there’ll still be some [activity].”
Whatever the level of activism on campus will be in the coming months, students showed their political energy here, responding to happenings on the screen with cheers, boos and some chuckles, including an eruption of laughter when Obama stumbled on his oath.
The overall mood, however, was positive.
“It’s been a great turnout,” junior Mark Dudley, president of the Political Science Students’ Association, which organized the watching party, said. “It’s a good example of what being a student here is about. Wash. U. definitely encompasses a wide range of viewpoints, agendas and backgrounds, and having everybody come here and unite under the same purpose and same mission is a great example of what we stand for.”
After surging when Obama put his hand on the Bible, the cheers died down as he took the podium, though scatters of applause followed most of Obama’s pauses during the speech. The loudest praise from the University Center came as Obama reasserted the United States’ will to lead the world.
Gregory Hutchings, an associate dean of the Olin School of Business, said that the students’ reaction evidenced a difference between them and older generations.
“This event really reflects a generational change that’s taking place in politics right now,” he said. “Seeing how engaged the students are in this past election and this event today—I think it will continue. I think people are very enthusiastic about our new president.”
Dudley, whose group held an event Tuesday night with two professors who analyzed the inauguration, agrees that politics should extend beyond isolated celebrations like this one.
“Hopefully [interest] is not going to die after today,” he said. “Politics shouldn’t be a fair-weather sport; it should be a year-round event.”
Leslie Heusted, the assistant director of special events and programming for the Danforth University Center, plans to organize more gatherings, and said that the turnout on Tuesday indicated the students’ political awareness.
“We all have a shared responsibility to move forward,” she said.
Some students are confident that political activity will continue.
“It feels like there’s going to be a change,” Goeckner said, speaking above the music of Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. “It feels hopeful.”
Tags: duc, inauguration, leslie heusted, mark dudley, obama