Kalamazoo, Michigan — On Tuesday, Western Michigan University opened up its beautiful James Miller Auditorium so that literally thousands of students could walk in and view the inauguration of the first Black president, a 47-year-old gentleman by the name of Barack Hussein Obama.
There was a fairly large turnout. Although whites made up a majority–which was somewhat surprising and thrilling to me at the same time–African Americans were fairly represented as well. As I looked out into this diverse ocean of people–black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, young, old–I noticed that they were reacting in many different ways. Some had cell phones, some had cameras to take pictures of the events that were rolling across the flat-screened TVs.
Such a practice at Western’s Miller Auditorium, indeed, is prohibited much of the time. But as Kent Buchanan, usher and sales coordinator of the auditorium, pointed out, when asked why he made an exception to the no picture-taking or videotaping rule today, replied: “Depends on the performance. Usually, 90% of them usually do not allow them. But because it is a general viewing, it is kind of hard preventing people from taking pictures of a television,” he laughed.
Which kind of struck me as odd because in many of your movie theaters, it is a prosecutable crime to tape record or use a Camcorder on any movie you might see in that theater. There are copyright concerns.
What it all boils down to, then, is this was special. This was history in the making. Of course they weren’t going to try to shut the flashing video cameras or the cellphones down. They were taping history for posterity. And you know what? I don’t blame them one bit. If I could have done so, I would have too.
I also witnessed occasional instances of people muttering to each other. For instance, during Pastor Rick Warren’s prayer, I noticed someone about three or four seats from me in the auditorium saying, “They let them do that?” I felt like saying, “Of course!” Saying this, I do realise that there are some that believe that a prayer such as the one that Warren prayed has no place in an inauguration due to separation of Church and State.
But I am not here to argue the point on that one today. I am writing this to celebrate the fact that Western Michigan University opened up its campus to anyone who wanted to, to show this event of staggering historical proportions–for free.
There was occasional laughter throughout the auditorium as well. When Warren, I believe it was, mentioned Sasha and Melita, the two Obama daughters, there was laughter. Another moment some people found amusing was when Aretha Franklin, 66, took the podium to sing, “My Country Tis of Thee.” For a woman now her age, she looked amazing. But clearly, it seems her voice has aged just a bit. When she tried to hit, “Faaaa-ther,” it provoked the laughter of some of the students there, because it seemed that her voice cracked just a little bit.
Another time people laughed was when Obama came up for Inauguration. He was taking the Oath of Office, and stumbled over a few words. I guess he was nervous, just as I would be. People laughed at that. My thought about that is that Barack Obama is human, just like the rest of us.
There was thunderous applause there, as well. When the big moment came, he received a thunderous round of applause by virtually everyone in that auditorium. People began cheering at this moment, indeed, for quite a while. The applause was especially loud when he said, “My fellow citizens.” As he said, “I thank President Bush for his service, the clapping was polite, yet noticably lukewarm. Bush, for those of you do not know, is leaving office with a the lowest approval rating ever of any president since the late Richard Nixon when he left office in 1974. In fact, when the camera panned to Bush briefly–people laughed.
I am also struck by what a student told me after this speech was over. Gad Holland, 23, an Aviation Administration Student at Western, told me, “I was amazed at how many people showed up. I watched Bush’s inauguration–the numbers were totally opposite.”
Why? I will give my own opinion. My guess is that there was a lot of angst about how Mr. Bush came by the Presidency. As many of you already know, in 2000 there was a huge dispute over whether Al Gore, his opponent, won the election, or not. Many felt that Bush was declared winner by the Supreme Court, without every vote really being counted.
I was not interested enough in Bush to attend his inaugural address that Saturday, January 20, 2001, or to watch it on TV. I did not vote for him, I was not a big fan at all. I was glad that a president was finally elected, but I knew what the country looked like under his dad, and I expected more of the same.
Not much about him grabbed me. I didn’t see his Inauguration as a truly historical event, and I was not exactly clamouring to hear him speak.
However, I was engaged listening to Obama’s speech more than anyone I can think of in a long time, except, perhaps, my lovely wife, who is a superb speaker, I have never seen anything like Barack Hussein Obama. He is an eloquent man with a smooth flow of words that roll out like a mighty river. One is reminded of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he or she hears Obama speak. He has the cadence and pronunciation of an African American Baptist or pentecostal preacher.
After the inauguration speech, I noticed that half the people in that auditorium began to filter out. The inauguration speech, clearly, was the main event. It was the reason why people braved 6-degree temperatures to attend the screening of the Inauguration, the closest these three-thousand people will ever get to actually viewing this in Washington–where it was a lot warmer, by the way.
I am 42 years of age. In all my life I never dreamed that the day would finally arrive when the Great Dreamer’s Dream would finally be realised. In about 1996, I had given up on the prospect of that ever happening. Indeed, this reporter is hopeful that, in a nation still plagued by the destructive cancer of racism, that the malignancy will be placed in a long-lived remission by the chemotherapy of justice and the radiation of equal opportunity, now shown in the highest form by the Inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.