College Community Celebrates Inauguration

The view of David Kung, a math professor at St. Mary’s. He attended President Obama’s inauguration ceremony on the National Mall. (Photo Submitted by David Kung)
The view of David Kung, a math professor at St. Mary’s. He attended President Obama’s inauguration ceremony on the National Mall. (Photo Submitted by David Kung)

In Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2009 Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Here at the College, students and professors celebrated by partaking in several group events. Students were invited to watch the inauguration unfold on several venues on campus; Cole Cinema and the River Center were open for students to watch the event, and the televisions in the Campus Center and Upper Deck were tuned in to CNN.

Although the College never officially canceled classes, most professors did so to allow their students to participate in the inauguration. “I wanted to give the students the opportunity to celebrate or not celebrate as they wished,” said political science professor Sahar Shafqat, who canceled her classes for the day.

Shafqat added, “I feel that institutionally, there was a desire to mark this historic occasion, saying, ‘Look, this is a big deal.’”

In Cole Cinema, students were able to listen to brief talks before the swearing-in took place. Associate professor of history Charles Holden outlined previous notable inaugural addresses throughout American history, and Assistant Vice President of Academic Services Lenny Howard spoke about Obama’s impact on African-American identity, especially in the contexts of success and education. Bon Appetit provided a patriotic flag cake topped with strawberries and blueberries for the celebration, and afterwards, Michael Cain, the head of the political science department and Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, led discussions.

The event was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Office of Student Activities. “We all worked on this together to bring faculty, staff, and students together,” said Kelly Schroeder, Assistant Dean of Students.

By 11:30 a.m., Cole Cinema was packed, and latecomers were forced to hover by the cinema doors. The room was mostly silent throughout the ceremony, with applause after each event from the inaugural prayer to the inaugural address. A ripple of laughter shot through the room with Pastor Rick Warren’s pronounced, almost fierce blessing of first daughters “Malia” and “Sasha,” and a similar wave of “Awwww” washed over the crowd whenever the two girls appeared on-screen. Many found the oath of office and its difficulties endearing, especially from such a calm person as Obama.

“It was interesting to see some of his stumbles,” said junior Brad Dodson. “It let us know he’s human, just like us…and realize that we’re in this together.”

Obama’s speech fetched a standing ovation from those not already forced to stand, and the overall mood in the room was electric. “[This is] where civic tradition kicks in,” said Holden. He said that it was amazing to see so many people come together, and not just for a tragic event like an assassination or Sept. 11. He described the feeling as “like the excitement of the campaign, …one last time, or kind of reaching the peak.”

If students thought they were cramped in Cole Cinema, the screen showed that the turnout in D.C. was enormous. “There was something like 2 million people in Washington,” said Cain.

Mathematics professor David Kung was one of the many people present for the inauguration. “ It was fantastic,” he said. “There was a crush of people everywhere.” Kung received the tickets to attend the inauguration through his parents’ congressmen back in Wisconsin.

Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black also received tickets from a senator in another state. “We immediately tried to get tickets from our Maryland representative, but we received an auto reply that thousands had asked already,” she said. She managed to get tickets from her mother in Nebraska. They turned out to be some of the best, placing her “only a football field away” from the action. “It turned out to be the glamorous section; we stood in line with Susan Sarandon and Wesley Snipes,” she said. “We felt very lucky to be there.”

According to Cain, this inauguration was particularly exciting for two reasons. The first was that the nation was seeing the end of an administration that had been on the decline, and the second that Obama was the first African-American to be elected President of the United States. “The first time for anything makes it important,” said Cain. “ Kennedy was the first Catholic and his inauguration was very important for people. [Obama] being first makes it important.”

Cognard-Black thinks that so many people turned out not only for the historical importance of the event, but also because of Obama’s humility and truth. “I think [he’s so popular] because he just projects and presents truthfulness. He actually honors the other side…I don’t think we’ve seen that level of graciousness.”

Due to the significant historical context of this inauguration, many people had their young children watch and understand that history was being made. “We took our 11-year-old son,” said Kung. “Having him see the turnout for this helps him appreciate the historical importance of the moment.”

Cognard-Black and her husband, also took their daughter to the inauguration. In fact, she said that they probably would not have gone if not for their daughter, Kate. “Because of Kate, we’re parents of an only child, and we really think of what experiences are vital for her.”

Like many of his past speeches, President Obama’s inauguration speech was heavily analyzed. Different people saw different things in it. “He definitely placed his inaugural address within the context of inaugural addresses, …hearkening to a sense of unity and purpose,” said Holden.

Holden added that although Obama “said some nice things about the [former] president,” he was “a little bit sharper in marking an Obama administration as being different from the Bush administration.”

“I think that looking at it in terms of Mr. Obama’s speeches, it wasn’t his best speech,” Cain said. “The content of it, not the delivery, was as good as the one given to the Democratic Party, but it was a sobering speech and I think it was an appropriate speech.”

Cognard-Black was touched by Obama’s speech, and like Cain, felt it was appropriate for the country’s situation. She was also very impressed by the way that she felt he addressed issues without pointing fingers, and she reaffirmed that this is why he appeals to so many people. “I don’t think it’s just because he’s a liberal and because he’s young. I think it’s because he has ethos,” she said.

However, not everyone watching the inauguration at the College was an Obama supporter. President of College Republicans Sara Metz was one of the first people to trickle into Cole Cinema. She stayed for the entire event.

“I felt uncomfortable, obviously, being a Republican,” she said. She said that despite the excitement electrifying the  room, “I was trying to be analytical.”

Regarding the speech, Metz said “There were some things I was elated about,” although sometimes she “felt like it was kind of partisan.”

Still, “it was a good experience, even though I felt out of place,” she concluded. “It was a historic event.”
oom, “I was trying to be analytical.”

Regarding the speech, Metz said “There were some things I was elated about,” although sometimes she “felt like it was kind of partisan.”

Still, “it was a good experience, even though I felt out of place,” she concluded. “It was a historic event.”

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