Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Lehigh community captivated by Obama inauguration

Students Zahir Carrington '10, left, and CalvinJohn Smiley '08, '09, celebrate Obama's inauguration while watching in Lamberton Hall.

From the heights of the Mountain Top campus to the Catacombs under Packer Memorial Chapel, the Lehigh community gathered to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office Tuesday as the 44th President of the United States of America.

The largest gathering, with more than 160 people, packed into Lamberton Hall's Great Room, where students, faculty and staff enthusiastically welcomed the country’s first African-American leader. They applauded and cheered throughout the ceremony and stood during the vice presidential and presidential oaths of office. They even echoed the “amens” of the Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction.

CalvinJohn Smiley ’08, ’09 led many of the crowd’s responses. “From this point out, no child can say that there has never been a black president,” he said afterward.

The gathering was part of a week of events on Lehigh’s campus commemorating the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“The timing of yesterday’s (Martin Luther King Day) holiday as also being the eve of today’s inauguration couldn’t have been more perfect or better choreographed,” said Seth Goren, rabbi and director of the Hillel Society, and a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Planning Committee.

“It seemed to us to be a natural fit,” said John McKnight, director of the office of multicultural affairs and a member of the MLK committee. “Today, Dr. King’s vision and dream is being realized – not all of it, but an important part of it.”

Obama represents King’s vision of social and economic change, added Ayanna Wilcher, assistant director of career services and co-chair of the MLK committee. As an African-American from Chicago, she rejoiced as the senator from her hometown moved into the White House.

“I will celebrate after this and all week long,” she said. “And I hope to instill that pride in my children.”

More than 160 people packed into the Lamberton Hall's Great Room to watch Barack Obama's inauguration.

Many people in Lamberton Hall knew someone who joined the nearly two million celebrants in Washington D.C.

“I was going to go to D.C.—both my roommates are there—but I was obligated to stay here,” said Ted Morrin, ’08, ’10G, who volunteered for the Obama campaign. “I felt that if I couldn’t be there in the crowd, this was the next best thing. I can be here with people that feel the same energy I do.”

His desire to witness the event with others was echoed by Smiley and others, including his friend, Dan Newcombe ’08, ’09.

Newcombe, a citizen of the United Kingdom, was heavily invested in the election and even canvassed for Obama.

“As an international student, I appreciate the magnitude of what Obama can do for the world,” Newcombe said. He believes the new President will improve America’s reputation internationally and bring hope to more countries than just the United States.

“The election has global, international, meaning,” he said.

Dan Olson ’10 came to Lamberton Hall to watch the inauguration—and the other people in the room.

“I wanted to be around the masses to see how they react. I expect to see most people elated,” he said before the event began.

Olson supports Obama, but views the passion he generates in others warily.

“Before he’s been in the office one day, there has already been a tribute to him,” he remarked.

Taking part in history

Faculty, staff and graduate students watched the inauguration in the Multicultural Resource Center on the Mountain Top Campus.

Smaller groups gathered elsewhere to commemorate the peaceful passing of power. Kathleen Hutnik, director of graduate student life, took in the proceedings with a group of nearly 40 graduate students in the Catacombs, behind Packer Church.

“The heat barely works, so our group felt as if we were there with all those people on the Mall,” she joked.

In looking around the room, she said she was struck by the fact that the graduate students represented countries from all over the world.

“There were students from Chile, Argentina, Turkey, China, Cameroon, Italy, India, and then domestic students who are Caucasian, Latino, and African-American—our little microcosm of the globe,” she said. “Many of the students said they'd never seen anything like this and thought that it was awesome.”

Up on the Mountain Top Campus, the College of Education community gathered in the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) to watch the new president’s speech.

More than 50 faculty, staff and graduate students were quietly reflective during his speech. They paid particular attention to Obama’s commitment to diversity and America’s role in a changing world, said Matt Malouf, a doctoral student in counseling psychology and graduate assistant at the MRC.

Ron Yoshida, professor of education and provost emeritus, joined the group in the MRC and noted that Obama’s speech emphasized accountability.

"He talks and models our responsibility to community and to others. He does the same about treating one another with respect, Americans and citizens of other countries alike. Such values resonate deeply with many Americans. Witness the faces that we saw on the Mall and in our own gathering in the MRC as we heard him take the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of we, the people."

As millions of people listened to Obama’s oath, live Web feeds across campus were slow and disrupted throughout the morning.

“There was nothing more amazing—and anxiety-inducing—than watching every Web video feed of the celebration eventually skip or crash,” Malouf said. “But though we were left watching a blank TV at times and had to resort to simply listening to audio of our new president addressing the nation, the Internet bottlenecks made it clear that we and millions of others just like us were taking part in history.”

"A part of something big and good and powerful"

For Chris Mulvihill and Tom Dubreuil, the inauguration proceedings held special meaning. Both Mulvihill, assistant dean of student conduct, and Dubreuil, associate dean of campus living and student conduct, describe themselves as political junkies.

Both volunteered with Obama’s presidential campaign—Mulvihill in Chester County and Dubreuil in the Lehigh Valley—and both feel particularly vested in Obama’s success.

The two joined other staff members in their office in Warren Square to watch the proceedings on a small television they found in an office closet.

“For me, part of his appeal is that I finally feel like it is a person of my generation and the politics will be different,” Dubreuil said. “The U.S. and all the citizens need to come before partisan politics and I am very hopeful it will happen with Obama.”

He said he found the inaugural proceedings “very moving.

“It was a wonderful call for all Americans to roll up their sleeves and work together to better our nation,” he said. “I've had the TV on in the background all morning while trying to get work done, and I was transfixed by the imagery. I found myself having trouble focusing on anything but the inauguration.”

Added Mulvihill: “I feel hopeful. I feel proud. I feel a part of something big and good and powerful.”

In the lunchroom on the second floor of the University Center, several other members of the Lehigh community gathered to catch coverage of the day’s events.

Matt Peterson, a first-year student from West Chester, Pa., a self-described libertarian, said he was not originally a supporter of the newly inaugurated president, but added: “I have to give him a shot. He is the president now, and he deserves our respect.”

At a nearby table, Dee Lander and Marge Brozeman of Dining Services watched the news coverage as they took their lunch break. Lander thought the festivities were a bit extravagant, but she supports the new president and hopes that others will be realistic about expectations for him.

“We have to give him a chance, and we have to realize that he can’t fix everything overnight,” she said.

Brozeman agreed. She became a supporter after seeing Obama on television two years ago and sensing that “he was a very nice man, dignified,” and that he had the leadership ability to “follow through on his word and bring about change.

“God bless him, is all I have to say,” Brozeman said. “I just hope the best for him and for us.”

Story by Becky Straw, Tom Yencho and Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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