St. Louis, MO – First-time voters and foreign students were part of the varied crowd gathered at the University of Missouri - St. Louis' student center today to watch the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. The 150 students, faculty, staff and guests applauded wildly every time President Obama appeared on TV, and stood as he took the oath of office.
Freshman Sharla Howell waited in line for five hours to vote at a North County precinct on Election Day, and could barely contain her excitement that her class schedule let her watch the whole ceremony.
"I've been watching this since 5:30 this morning," she said. "I watched the people walking in, and listened to it on the radio, so, it's a special day for me."
Howell says she was drawn to the new President because he was willing to answer the questions he was asked, rather than dancing around them.
Josh Caddell was watching with his girlfriend Lisa Cagle, an UMSL masters student. He was "floored" by how far the country had advanced racially.
"I think it's incredible to think that 50 years ago there was still segregation and Jim Crow laws and things like that, and now here we are, in the first decade of the new millennium with the first African-American president," he said. Cagle called it a "watershed" moment.
Caddell's father is a staunch Republican, and Josh says they argued quite a bit during the election. He says he's a lot more concerned about social justice than his father, and found Obama to be the better candidate.
Twenty Ritenour High School students braved an early wake-up and hours in 20-degree temperatures to be on the Washington Mall for the inauguration. Senior Cartez Whitehorn says it was more than worth the hassle. "Me being a young black male, I have somebody to look up to to know that I can do anything," he said.
His classmate Sofia Murillo teared up when President Obama came down the steps of the U.S. Capitol. "When he stood there and swore in, he changed history, and that right there, it means a lot," she said.
And Edwardsville School District special education teacher Sallie Clark says the new president's inauguration, which she witnessed in D.C., will show her students they can be anything they want to.
"If you work hard enough, and try to do the right thing, you can reach that goal," she said. "Sometimes it's hard, but you can still attain that goal that you think you can't."