For those at the University of Miami who couldn’t travel to the nation’s capital for the swearing in of the 44th president of the United States, the University Center’s lounge was the next best thing.
By 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the UC was overflowing with people packed tightly inside the lounge. The doors could not close.
President Barack Obama’s voice projected into the breezeway, drawing more students along with the hundreds already gathered in darkness around the screen airing the inauguration. Although the university has hosted inauguration parties in the past, this year’s crowd was by far the largest.
“This is a collective experience and therefore deserves a big celebration,” UM President Donna E. Shalala said, who sat amongst students on one of the couches in the first row.
Junior Lionel Moise, first vice president of United Black Students and chair of the Martin Luther King Committee, kicked off the inauguration party by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. With the inauguration of the first black president in America’s history, Moise urged the crowd to try to go beyond King’s dream of equality.
“Remember, today marks history,” Moise said.
The moment Obama’s image appeared on the screen, the crowd on TV and in the UC applauded and cheered.
Once the swearing in ceremonies began, the room fell silent and every eye focused in on the screen.
Barbara Jimeno, a resident of Alapatta, could not fight back tears as she remembered the discrimination she faced when she left Cuba with her father in 1960.
“I can remember sitting on the back of the bus,” Jimeno said. “So, for me, this day is the best thing that ever happened.”
For the younger generation, the event meant something different. It was more about looking to the future than reflecting on the past.
“Seeing him become the first black president makes me, as an African American, want to set my goals higher,” sophomore Jonathan Bell said.
Obama’s message to the people was a somber one, but filled with undertones of hope.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They 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,” he said.
A loud round of applause filled the room again at the conclusion of the speech, and a line began to form around a table of food.
The event, sponsored by the Office of the President, Multicultural Student Affairs and United Black Students, provided a free buffet of meatballs, spring rolls and potato for attendees.
“I didn’t know this was going to be such a big production,” said Lucas Harriman, a graduate student. “It’s easy to think this is overblown, but the truth of the matter is this will always be remembered. It was nice to sit here in a place of higher education with all this diversity and realize that this is what America is all about.”