January 21, 2009
SUNY Cortland faculty, staff and students gather to celebrate Obama’s inauguration
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland sophomore Lawrence Chappy raises his arms with joy seconds after President Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday. The inauguration was shown on two giant screens in the Sperry Center on campus.
CORTLAND — Applause repeatedly filled a lecture hall at SUNY Cortland as faculty, staff and students greeted Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th U.S. president with excitement Tuesday.
About 90 people took time out from the hectic day before the start of spring semester classes to gather in Sperry Center’s Room 205 and watch Obama make history as the first black president.
“I think it’s absolutely marvelous,” said Robert Rhodes, professor emeritus of Anglo-Irish literature. “There’s a lot of hope but I don’t think we should expect miracles.”
Sophomore political science major Lawrence Chappy said he enjoyed the images of people in Kenya, home land of Obama’s father, watching the inauguration. He said in his native Liberia, in Africa, people were pooling whatever electricity they could gain access to, creating enough power to feed a large TV.
Richard Kendrick, chair of the anthropology and sociology department and director of the college’s Institute for Civic Engagement, said he never imagined he would see a black man become president.
“My parents were from the South and when I went down there, I saw the signs saying ‘No Colored,’” Kendrick said. “That was in South Carolina. It’s astounding to go from that to this in 50 years.”
The building’s staff showed the inauguration ceremonies on two projectors, each measuring roughly 8 by 16 feet. The center’s lecture halls, renovated two years ago, project images onto special material coating the wall at the front of the room.
The crowd gasped at ABC television’s images of the crowds on Washington, D.C.’s Mall, and applauded Obama’s first appearance at 11:40 a.m. They clapped louder when he strode out of the Capitol and down to his seat, and clapped again and again, after Aretha Franklin’s performance of “God Bless America” and Vice President Joe Biden’s oath of office.
Their loudest and longest clapping came after Obama recited his oath and after the new president said the many challenges facing the U.S. would be met.
They also reacted to his promise that schools and colleges would become a focus so they could help the nation recover from its economic problems.
The National Anthem caused them to rise, with a few putting their hands over their hearts and singing softly.
“This is a pretty exciting day and it is nice to see this with other people, instead of at home,” said Win Talentino, a nurse for the Cortland County Department of Health, who joined her husband Arnold, an English professor emeritus.
Only a handful of students were in the room. John Suarez, an academic writing instructor and coordinator of the Office of Service Learning, said most students probably watched in residence halls or apartments.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to communicate with all students,” Suarez said. “I think most students haven’t read their SUNY Cortland e-mail since they got back from winter break.”
Chappy said he savored the way Obama’s speech seemed to imply, in its message about problems facing the nation and the need to attack them, that outgoing President George W. Bush had done a poor job. Other people in the lecture hall said they were surprised by the directness of Obama’s words.
“It was an impressive speech, with a wonderful arc, the way he began with domestic issues and then moved to world issues,” Kendrick said.
International communications professor Tim Gerhard and his wife, Kate, took their sons Jack, 12, and Russell, 11, out of school to watch the inauguration with them at the lecture hall.
“This day and presidency will define their young adulthood,” Tim Gerhard said.
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