Obama: Hero to some, tough pill for others at HU
By MICHAEL TURNER
In the wake of 2008’s Olympic triathlon of a presidential race, trends were overturned, tradition uprooted, antes upped, and history written. Almost a year ago, the players in this season’s political contest took to the starting blocks along each of their individual paths.
At the farthest end of the arena stood U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., geared and cocked for one of the most grueling political marathons of recent history. Little did these soon-to-be caricatures of opposing political ideology and prescribed platform know just how lengthy the race would be. And even less, aware, perhaps, was the American public.
Now, in the aftermath, Hampton University students, like many others across the nation, are examining their lives in this country under a new light.
Across Hampton’s campus, students took an early interest in the election. In 2006, the ears of many perked up at the thought of the young candidate Obama running for president. At the time, U.S. Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y., had won the clear nod of the Democratic Party, but was receiving some suggestion that she would have to face a strong contender to prove herself deserving of a shot at the presidency.
Justice Telfare, a political science major from Newport News, Va., remembers being a freshman when he first heard the news.
“I had heard the name,” he said, “but I never knew just how much I would come to love it.”
On the other side, when McCain announced his candidacy for president on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in March 2007, Gabriel Taylor, an outspoken Republican supporter, suddenly became interested in the election. Taylor, a history major and sophomore at the time, was fond of McCain’s strong-willed approach to the Iraq War. A third-year Army ROTC cadet, Taylor takes personal interest in a new president’s stance on issues such as the war.
“Back then, McCain seemed like the candidate who wasn’t afraid of finishing what we started overseas,” he said. “I understand that I may be asked to fight for my country, and that’s exactly why I signed up for the program.”
Taylor and Telfare are clear representatives of the two sides of debate on campus that began to emerge in the earliest stages of the presidential race. As the race got underway and the two competing frontrunners—Obama and McCain—surpassed the other nominees in their party, tensions grew among Hamptonians. Though a more advertised Democratic presence appeared on car bumpers, in heavily populated student areas and in the school paper, a population of McCain supporters existed beneath the seemingly homogenous surface of the university’s political climate.
Gregory Pizzarro, a freshman political science major and close friend of Taylor, sided with the Republican ticket throughout the race.
“I didn’t want to say it out loud, seeing as I was surrounded by ‘Obamanites,’ but I really thought that McCain would do a better job as president,” he said. “I like Obama and all, but I know for a fact that he alone is not the answer to all of the current problems the country has.”
The Final Stretch
During the final weeks of the campaign, students across campus joined Facebook groups, signed up to volunteer, and even coordinated voter registration events for either of the two candidates and their running mates. The introduction of new faces into the political stew inspired an entirely new debate across campus: How much weight does a president’s selection of his vice have on his judgment?
“It was clear that McCain was playing a big political game,” said Delisaned Gonzales, a junior psychology major from Richmond. “It just made you question his genuineness when he picked Sarah Palin because it didn’t even seem like they had chemistry.”
Others were critical of Obama’s pick, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.
“When he picked Biden, I just thought ‘Oh, great, he picked a risky one.’ I felt like the party was already taking a chance with Obama,” said Telfare.
He and Justin Manning, a coordinator for “Students for Barack Obama,” among other students, were inspired by the constant e-mails they had received from the campaign headquarters asking for final donations and volunteers at polling booths during the final two weeks of the campaign. Both increased their efforts in organizing and promoting Obama’s platform.
“I knew that I couldn’t let up until my team—with my help—had succeeded in putting Barack Obama in the White House,” said Manning, who also helped direct voters to the polls.
On election night when the early news broke of Obama’s victory, students flooded the streets of Hampton University in celebration. Car horns, music and firecrackers echoed in and around the campus. Meanwhile, Taylor and a handful of McCain supporters took the announcement well, and not entirely by surprise. The following morning, evidence of election night jubilation still littered some back streets of the campus.
More than a month after the election, a sense of accomplishment still possesses a majority of Hampton’s campus. Those who supported the Obama-Biden ticket are proud of their victory, while opposition hasn’t seemed to let hard feelings outweigh the pride they share in witnessing the naming of the country’s first black president. However, the question that now remains is how students personally involved or otherwise plan to face the president and his new nation of awakened youth and minority groups.
Manning draws from the experience he gained from his involvement as a Students for Barack Obama coordinator to keep him invested in the upcoming administration.
“I’m no letting up because there are still congressional races in the spring that we have to be ready to fight for,¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬” Manning said.
Others, like Gonzales, who voted Republican even though critical of McCain’s run at the presidency, are making their own personal peace with President elect Obama.
“There’s no disputing that he won,” Gonzales said. “I just hope he does a good job because there is a lot riding on him, and honestly, even the color of his skin as a minority.”
While some are weary of Obama’s skin color opening his performance up to unfair scrutiny, others on campus feel that it could open numerous doors for other fresh, pigmented faces in government. Jerrold Roy, assistant dean of the Howard Scripps School of Journalism and Communications constantly refers to Obama as the first president that happens to be black, versus the first black president. Jokingly, he mentions that “as soon as Obama’s in office, I’m sending him my resume. He needs qualified people in his Cabinet, right?”
Roy is just one of many on campus who feel that Obama’s skin color and history will prove much more of an asset than extra baggage, just as it played a positive part in the election outcome. One thing that individuals at Hampton University, among billions worldwide, have realized, is that Barack Obama has been democratically elected as the next president of the Untied States of America and will not only work for, but represent all of its citizens.
“At the end of the day,” Gonzales said, “everybody is counting on him to change this country for the better. They have no choice.”
The writer is a junior at Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.