Support abounds in Gainesville

Teacher Bridget Schmidt reacts with her class of Idylwild Elementary 5th graders after watching the inauguration of the the 44th president, Barack Obama Tuesday in Washington DC.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 12:12 a.m.

As the noon hour approached on Tuesday, many Alachua County residents paused and turned their attention to Washington, D.C., where the nation welcomed Barack Obama as the 44th president.

More than 1,500 people - mostly students, faculty and staff - filed into the Santa Fe College gym to watch CNN's coverage of the inaugural ceremonies on four large screens. Organizers planned for about 850 people. When seats were no longer available, many stood or sat on the floor.

The festive atmosphere, complete with red, white and blue decorations, ebbed with moments of exuberance and tears. Many people wore Obama T-shirts or waved banners and posters. Everyone was treated to an "All-American lunch" of hotdogs, chips and cupcakes with either red or blue frosting.

Santa Fe was one of three watch sites organized by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, whose district includes portions of Alachua, Marion, Clay and Lake counties.

Santa Fe president Jackson Sasser encouraged instructors to allow students to watch the inauguration for what he said is "the culmination to one of the greatest celebrations we've ever had."

Santa Fe student government president Ceaser Fernandez told the crowd that the day was not just about being a Republican or Democrat, or even about President Obama, "but about us giving back to our community."

As Obama walked into view of television cameras, the crowd in the gym let out a thunderous cheer while waving hand-held American flags.

Finding a seat was a difficult chore for Nadirah Nesfield, Morgan Fortson and Carissa Albizu, all members of the Santa Fe softball team.

Fortson, a freshman from Gainesville, voted for Obama and said she would not have missed seeing the first African-American president.

Albizu, a freshman who voted for John McCain, was not bummed; she said she was ready for a change.

"I want to see what he is going to do to change the economy and change my view of why I did not vote for him," Albizu said.

As Biden and Obama took their respective oaths of office, most of the crowd in the gym stood along with those in Washington, D.C. They erupted into deafening applause following Obama's oath.

After the inaugural address, freshman Anthony McGilvery of Gainesville said the country is ready for a new, positive leader. He said Obama is an example of what we as a nation can do.

"He's showing me as a black man that anything is possible. I can be president one day too," McGilvery said. "I was always told there would never be a black man in office, but there is now. It's a big day."

Across town at the University of Florida's Orange and Brew pub, students at an inauguration viewing party munched on cake decorated with "Obama 2009" icing. As the event played on a big screen, they greeted major moments with cheers and tears.

The crowd included members of UF Students for Barack Obama. The group was unavoidable on campus in the fall, registering students, promoting their candidate and ensuring students followed through and voted.

Group co-coordinator Eric Conrad said Obama's inauguration speech tapped into a new spirit of service inspired by the campaign.

"It really addressed our current problems with a new vision," he said.

Kim Devitt, 18, volunteered for the campaign, going door-to-door to register voters in her dormitory and area apartment complexes. She skipped her mathematics class and searched 30 minutes for a parking spot to join the viewing party.

"This is history being made," she said.

Angela Salcedo, 21, said her professor cancelled her disability management class in order for students to be able to watch. Her "Yes We Can" temporary tattoo had rubbed off by the time the inauguration started, but she wore an Obama T-shirt for the second straight day in honor of the historic event.

"You can tell your kids that you saw it," she said.

Denise Adegoke, 19, applied for tickets to the inauguration with lawmakers in Florida as well as her native Georgia. She struck out on both counts, so she decided to join friends at the pub.

"This may never happen again - a black man being elected president while I'm alive," she said.

Back at Santa Fe, Tuesday was a day that Connie Caldwell, an Obama campaign volunteer, did not want to miss as she watched from the front row of seats in the SFC gym along with co-workers from the Adult Basic Education department. She was joined by Alyne Farrell, Yvonne Jones and Gary Arthur.

Farrell had made arrangements to watch the inauguration elsewhere before she knew SFC would broadcast the event.

"I wanted to be with people, waving flags, with tears in their eyes and just as moved about this as I am," she said.

For Arthur, Obama's speech held a lot of meaning, especially when he talked about the responsibility of all Americans.

"So it's up to us to open our hearts and minds to help him by working together," he said.

Dave Price, who teaches political science and history at SFC, will have students compare Obama's inaugural address to that of President Andrew Jackson's.

"Jackson was the first non-aristocrat in the White House and Obama is the first non-white to take office," Price said.

He said Obama was up front about it not being a good time in America, calling the new president brave for addressing it head on while others have sidestepped the issue.

"It was not a feel-good speech but he told us we've overcome problems in the past and we will again," Price said.

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