While President Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to become the 44th president and the first black president of the United States of America Tuesday morning, Dr. Steven Moore, associate professor of English, sat on his living room couch in disbelief.
Although Moore said he was in awe of the historic inauguration and was prepared for the change Obama said was needed to “begin again the work of remaking America,” reality did not sink in for the ACU English professor until long after Obama left the stage.
“It was very surreal, almost a fantasy for me to watch” said Moore, who canceled his 9:30 a.m. class so his students could watch the inauguration. “When I was growing up, when I was in high school, when I was in college, this is something I thought would never happen. This is something that is so unheard of.”
Throughout campus, Abilene and the nation, the ACU community of students, faculty, staff and alumni witnessed history in person, on television and on the Web Tuesday as Obama launched the beginning of his four-year term as the Chief Executive of the land.
On the Scene
ACU alumnus Matt Worthington (’08) was in a “sea of people” in D.C. when Obama declared in his inaugural address that the challenges our nation faced, “are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.”
Worthington requested a ticket from Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s office and flew to D.C. on Saturday to join the inaugural festivities. He left the friends’ apartment where he was staying for the D.C. mall area at 4 a.m., squeezed through bodies of strangers at the Metro station and slowly found a spot with a clear view of a giant screen projecting the inauguration unfolding more than 300 yards away.
“I couldn’t lift my arms above my head the majority of the time,” Worthington said. “It’s like a claustrophobic’s nightmare, a night terror for someone who is claustrophobic.”
Surrounded by strangers of all imaginable backgrounds and squinting to see Obama yards away on the Capitol steps, Worthington said he witnessed the president lay out his vision for America and declare the change, devotion and work that was needed to return to the greatness of years past; he was moved to tears when Obama declared the necessary devotion needed to the poor.
“I can count on my fingers the time I have legitimately cried in the past 10 years,” Worthington said. “I like how he focused on the fact that if we’re going to be great again, if we’re going to take the reins of greatness, part of our pursuit must be making others great too.”
Time for Prayer
In Moody Coliseum, instead of the usual Chapel hymns, the Tuesday morning crowd of ACU students walking into the basketball stadium was greeted by live footage of the presidential inauguration projected on two large screens.
While Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the inauguration to order, hundreds of ACU students, faculty and staff filed into seats throughout the stadium. Dr. Royce Money, president of the university, asked the students in Moody to stand as Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) was sworn in as the 47th Vice President of the United States.
Students returned to their seats with their eyes on the screens, fiddled with their cell phones or chatted amongst each other until 11:05 a.m., when they rose to their feet when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the presidential oath of office to Obama.
“I think for the most part the atmosphere in Chapel was very respectful,” said Charles Rotenberry, freshman exercise science major from Abilene.
When Obama removed his hand from the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration in 1861, Moody Coliseum erupted in cheers and applause, and eventually, prayer.
Mark Lewis, assistant dean for Spiritual Life and Chapel Programs, brought students’ attention to the front stage where Dr. Edward Robinson, assistant professor of history and Biblical studies; Jonathan Camp, assistant professor of communication, and Money each said an individual prayer for the nation and its newly elected officials.
“Dear Lord, we pray the richest blessings on our nation at this special time in our history,” Robinson said. “Please, dear Lord, even with our new president, our new administration, grant our officials your wisdom and your power to make our world a better place.”
Students Jordan Steger and Kim Tan sat next to each other while watching the inauguration along with a throng of students spread out across the floor of the political science department’s offices in the Administration Building.
Although Steger, senior political science major from Rockwall, and Tan, senior political science major from Tinton Falls, N.J., voted differently on Election Day, they both revered Obama’s powerful words and promise of change. Steger voted for the president’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, but he said Obama’s preparation for the job before taking office and his powerful words Tuesday urging all U.S. citizens to join together in rebuilding the nation earned the president his support.
“I can’t help but feel an overwhelming excitement for the next four years,” Steger said. “I voted on experience, but I know that he is qualified now.”
Tan pinned an Obama/Biden campaign button to her green sweater to commemorate the day, but although she has been a long-time supporter of the new president, she will hold him accountable and wants to see the changes he promised come to fruition.
“I’m excited to see what he does with health care and education and see how the changes affect the future generations and the nation as a whole,” Tan said.
Obama’s inauguration was not only a historic experience for ACU’s American students, but served as an inspiration to the community of international students who study in Abilene.
Cleophas Tanui, junior political science major from El Deret, Kenya, and Daniel Maina, junior biology major from Nanuki, Kenya, both said Obama’s Kenyan roots drew them to the Illinois candidate, but it was the president’s politics that earned their respect.
“People have come now to change their mentality about America now,” Maina said. “All of a sudden they’re like, ‘Wow, let’s think again.’ This country’s great because if it is not, why would they reject this and this and this and elect Obama based only on his politics, not his race.”
Tanui said after watching Obama’s emergence and success, he hopes to return to Kenya with an ACU degree in hand and the dream of becoming a senator in his home land. Tanui said Obama’s example and courage to call for change may help developing democracies like Kenya choose candidates with the people’s interests in mind, and not leaders who only wish to oppress and take advantage of the African people.
“This sends a signal to other nations that it is high time we put democracy high,” Tanui said. “It is high time not that we remove those leaders that are dictators.”
In their tenure at ACU, Dr. Mel Hailey, chair of the political science department, and Dr. David Dillman, associate professor of political science, said they have witnessed many inaugurations, but Tuesday’s historical significance drew an audience they had not seen in past years.
“I’ve never seen that before at an inauguration at ACU,” Dillman said. “I’ve not seen the level of interest, and I’ve seen quite a few inaugurations here.”
Hailey praised Obama’s “carefully chosen” words that he saw as a “clarion call” that moved our country into a new age and era domestically and internationally.
“I was struck by the seriousness on the look of Obama’s face; you could see the shift between the candidate and the president,” Hailey said. “He is a person of words, and his words were chosen very carefully today.”
Dillman and Hailey warned against those who would try to dissect Obama’s speech to find “the line” that sums up this historic moment, and instead they said people should heed every word Obama declared.
“The point is that the speech was the line today, the whole thing,” Hailey said. “Don’t take one line out of context; don’t take one sentence and say this is it. The whole speech was, excuse me for using this terminology, but it was seamless.”
Hailey, a registered Democrat, said he was encouraged by Obama’s openness to reach across party lines and allow all ideas into the circle to begin solving the crisis facing the nation. Unlike past presidents, where bi-partisan was preached on the campaign and not practiced once the election was over, Hailey said Obama’s cabinet appointments and pragmatic style might break that cycle.
“There is an old British political scientist who once observed in America’s history that in times of crisis there is always a person who is selected to rise to the challenge,” Hailey said. “Maybe this is such a time.”
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