At his acceptance speech Tuesday evening, Barack Obama said to a captive audience in Chicago and around the world, “[This campaign] grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy.” This could not have been more evident than in the scene in Parina Lounge. Approximately 100 students, many of whom never before voted in a presidential election, piled on to couches and sat on the floor to soak in every word of their new President-elect Barack Obama.
The scene was a physical manifestation of the excitement and involvement youth have had in politics in this historic election season. “I feel so happy,” said Angela Mucci, program assistant for the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, who planned the Election Watch along with the USF Politics Society. Red, white and blue balloons and streamers decked the lounge, students munched on popcorn and cotton candy, posed for photos with cardboard cutouts of the candidates, and talked animatedly about the issues. Mucci said, “It’s so great to see students so excited about being part of the process.”
Students began gathering in Parina Lounge around 6 p.m. to watch the election results come in on a large screen airing CNN coverage. As each state’s electoral votes were announced, student cheered or groaned according to their political persuasion. A vast majority of students were supporting Obama, many donning t-shirts baring his likeness or declaring that, should the candidate lose, they would move to Canada.
But few could predict the emotional response that erupted when CNN announced just after 8 p.m. that Obama was the projected president-elect. Screams and cheers and clapping hands were deafening, but the tears of joy and disbelief marked how momentous the occasion was.
To senior politics major Whitney Redd, the moment of Obama’s victory made her feel “Elated…Emotional…Ecstatic.” She screamed with joy as the president-elect appeared on the screen to speak. Redd, an African American student, professed admiration for not just Barack but also his wife Michelle Obama. “She’s the first real role model I can see. For the first time, there is a black female representative that I admire.”
Halima Najieb-Locke, a sophomore English lit major and an African American, said that although she voted for Obama based on the issues, she was proud to see a black man serve as president. “It means so much respect-wise,” she said. “Throughout history, blacks have been the race at the bottom of the totem pole. But now there is no way anyone can doubt our abilities.”
Najieb-Locke said she thought that having an African American president would change the way people thought about race. “It will change a lot of older people’s perspectives, and in turn it will change what they teach their children.”
Junior Alexandra Platt said she became moved to tears several times throughout the night. She said, “Being in college while this is happening is so special. To be in a world where we can make change is totally inspirational.”
Platt, who is president of the ASUSF Senate, has political aspirations beyond her years at USF. Though vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is not exactly her political heroine, Platt by chance won a life-size cardboard cutout of the Alaskan governor in a raffle drawing. Platt said to her cardboard companion, “I’m going to be the first woman president, not you.”
Contrary to how it might seem, not all USF students were ardent Obama supporters. Junior international business major David Corea said he was supporting John McCain because he believed his plan to help big businesses would give the economy a much-needed boost. However, he said he was excited to see if Obama could help the middle class and “give the little guy a boost up.”
“I think it’s exciting. We’re going to have a president who can speak English now,” joked sophomore Kirstyn Schilling. On a more serious note, she said, “I voted for the first time and it was for an African American president. It’s history.”
Redd said optimistically, “I hope this progress continues. I hope Americans see change is going to come.”
Junior politics major Melissa Stihl said, “Now is when we as college students need to stay politically active to ensure that our involvement with politics doesn’t end November 5.”