President Barack Obama is known as a masterful speaker, a man who can summon a singular unity of purpose through words that meld the nation’s past with its future.
On Tuesday, during Obama’s inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., in enclaves on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, from the theater of the Joe Crowley Student Union to classrooms and offices throughout campus, people gathered to watch as Obama officially became the 44th president of the United States.
Those on campus found the experience to be just as stirring and just as emotional as if they had been in Washington, D.C., in person, bearing witness to history as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath of office.
“It was electrifying,” said Miranda Moore, 20, a junior journalism major who watched the event along with dozens of others in the Joe Crowley Student Union theater. “It sent shivers down my spine.”
Moore, like everyone else in the theater, found herself caught up in the moment at several junctures, including when all in attendance in the theater rose for the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” following the conclusion of Obama’s inaugural address.
“It was just so neat to watch people stand up,” said Moore, who voted for the first time in a presidential election in November. “Not only for his speech, but for the national anthem … to feel the honor and glory of the new president, to see change happening, and to see what it will truly do for your country, was amazing.”
Lindsey Utter, 20, an elementary education major, said Obama’s inauguration was the first one she had ever watched.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” she said. “I thought his speech was very good. I’ve never actually watched one before this actual inauguration. It was very interesting.”
Perhaps most interesting of all was the fact that Obama stumbled. As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. presented the oath of office to Obama, Obama tripped over several of the words. At one point, the President-elect anxiously jumped in before Roberts was done reciting the first few words. At another point, it was not clear if Obama and Roberts were actually speaking and then repeating the same words.
It didn’t seem to matter to those watching.
“I actually started to smile, when that happened,” said Natasha Courtney, 21, a senior journalism major from Reno. “(Obama’s) such a genuine person. And he’s a human being; he’s just like the rest of us. He’s not perfect, and it almost worries me that people want him to be so perfect. He stumbled, but I looked at the audience, and they all still looked like they were in awe of the moment.
“No one was laughing or making fun of him. They were still like, ‘We picked the right guy.’”
Added Moore: “It made it real. The whole time, everything was running perfectly. And when (Obama) stumbled through (the oath of office) it made the experience real. He was like the rest of us; he was taking in this amazing historical moment, and it was pretty unbelievable. I loved watching him stumble during that part. I thought, ‘This is so great. He’s a human being. Even the president can make mistakes.’”
Journalism professor Bob Felten thought there was no better way for the spring semester to begin – Tuesday was the first day of classes following winter break – than to have his public relations class meet in the theater for an assignment. To his surprise, all 17 of his students appeared in the theater, ready to record their own observations of Obama’s ceremony, as well as what kind of impact the event was having on campus.
For Moore, the assignment presented a challenge: how to record history, while also recording one’s emotions, which, like Obama’s speech, ran a full gamut on Tuesday.
“I hardly ever got to look up,” Moore smiled. “I was writing the whole time. I kept thinking, ‘Oh, I want to remember this … I want to remember this … I want to remember this and this.’ It was just such a great speech.”
Felten, a longtime communications practitioner who has also written and covered his fair share of speeches over the years, agreed: “I thought it was amazingly inclusive of all of the issues and all of the people. There was power there. I’m going to be interested to see which phrases that people will pick out.”
For many, Obama’s allusion to the nation’s beginnings and a quote from the nation’s founding father and first president, George Washington, clearly resonated.
Obama quoted Washington as saying, “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at common danger, came forth to meet it.”
“I thought it was fascinating that he went all the way back to Washington, to contrast the time before we were a nation, before we had become independent with the time we are in now,” Felten said. “That’s a pretty powerful connection and a pretty emphatic call to service.”
Carolyn Sullivan, and her friend, Jane Albright, came to campus to share history’s moment with others. She had “Googled” Obama inauguration parties and Reno, Nev., on Monday night and the first result to pop up on her computer was the viewings that were being held in the Joe Crowley Student Union.
A self-described “homemaker” Sullivan had worked on the Obama campaign, cooking and driving for the scores of Obama volunteers who had traveled to northern Nevada from the Bay Area.
She found plenty of friends in the Student Union on Tuesday as well.
“Toward then end (of Obama’s speech), when he talked about responsibility, it was so inspirational,” she said. “How each of us have to step forward and contribute to making the world a better place.”
Mitchio Koide, 19, an education major, said Obama’s presidency marked the beginning of a new era for the United States.
“There was a hope that was kind of bestowed upon us,” Koide said. “There’ll be a new era that’s coming in and a lot of people can dream of, things that were thought impossible in the past that some people just let it go as just the way it is. That is going to be changed.
“I feel that it was great that the first African-American president now is in office there is hope for everybody else too that they could be a president.”
Nic Rhea, 21, a secondary education major, agreed.
“(Obama’s) goal has become more, I’d say, centered, on working with everyone, working on both sides of the aisle,” Rhea said. “I just hope for … well change is a very vague word, I hope everyone can work together. The last presidency seemed very conflicted and I’m just hoping that everyone can work together to get through these tough economic times.”
Sullivan, like everyone else, didn’t seem to mind that Obama had trouble with the oath of office.
“I was a little concerned … I would’ve thought it was something he would’ve memorized,” she said. Then Sullivan looked around, and took another glance at the video screen outside the theater. Dozens of students and passers-by were still taking in the pictures of a frigid, yet sunny, National Mall in Washington, D.C. “But then I thought, ‘You know, when he starts speaking, it’s just incredible.’”