Students, teachers, school district staff watch inauguration

MARYSVILLE — On Jan. 20, many area residents were able to watch history unfold on television, among them a packed room of students, parents, teachers and staff at the Marysville School District offices, who watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama on the big screens in the board room.

Marjorie Serge is a high school teacher with the Marysville school home partnership program, and she was able to bring approximately 60 students to the viewing, most of them in their sophomore, junior and senior years.

“We’re hoping they see this as a call to action,” Serge said. “We’ve been striving for citizenship building in our program. We’re hoping that our kids will really become part of this and realize that it’s up to all of us to make this country go in the course that we want it to go in.”

Even as she acknowledged the crises currently facing America and the world, Serge expressed optimism for the future, due in no small part to the ways in which Obama’s inauguration signified the progress that the United States has already made.

“Like Mr. Obama said, his father, 50 years ago, would not have been served in this country, and here we have an African-American president,” Serge said. “I think people have come together all across this country, all races, all ages, all people who have never been involved before. I think it’s a really empowering time for our country.”

Serge hopes that her students share in her sense of empowerment, so that they will feel that they can all make a difference. Among the students who were interviewed by The Marysville Globe, Serge’s hopes seem to have come true.

Perhaps the biggest political divide in the opinions voiced by those six students was between those who had supported Obama’s bid for the presidency from the start, versus those such as senior Rebekka Brucker, junior Stephanie Exendine and sophomore Spike Coker-Mosher, who had initially supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Even then, Clinton’s fans among those students quickly converted to Obama supporters once she dropped out of the race and all the students agreed that Obama’s inauguration was a profoundly moving moment for them.

“It was incredibly inspiring, not just for people to become president, but for people just to achieve whatever dreams that they have in their lives,” said Brucker, an 18-year-old who was a delegate for Clinton at the Democratic caucuses before voting for Obama. “Even if they don’t want to achieve such a high position of power, I think seeing someone rise against the odds would inspire them to rise against their own odds, to achieve their dreams.”

Senior Elyse Andrews, junior Michelle Coker-Mosher and sophomore Mariah Briese all reflected, like Serge, upon the historic significance of Obama’s election as America’s first African-American president. Andrews pointed out the synchronicity of his inauguration taking place one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while Briese echoed Serge’s hopes that Obama’s election would instill in children of all races the belief that “you can come from anywhere — small towns, big towns, anywhere — and you can do anything in this world.”

“We get to see the point of view of a different color and a different race,” Michelle Coker-Mosher said. “All the other presidents were white, so it’s kind of cool.”

Spike Coker-Mosher differed slightly with this opinion, since he felt that Obama’s race shouldn’t have mattered.

“I don’t really believe that was a significant reason for making history,” Spike Coker-Mosher said. “It was historic that he was elected our 44th president, but I personally wouldn’t have brought up the whole ethnic background thing because I don’t believe in voting for someone based on their ethnicity.”

All the students interviewed gave Obama high marks for the eloquence of his remarks. Michelle Coker-Mosher appreciated his enthusiasm and articulation of his plans, while Spike Coker-Mosher looks forward to seeing how Obama “changes our country for the better,” as well as how he’ll address energy and environmental policies. Andrews, 18, was persuaded to vote for Obama because of his debate performances and was just as impressed with his inauguration speech.

Fully half of the students cited the economy as an immediate concern, while Exendine and Briese also worry about the war in Iraq, with both students calling for American troops to be brought home as soon as possible.

“Maybe we can come up with a new plan, because obviously what Bush is doing isn’t working,” Exendine said.

School district staff members who watched the inauguration seemed to share many of the same emotions as the students.

“I felt very warm-hearted and hopeful for the future, with the change in presidents and the new ideas,” said Nola Hutton, a grants specialist with the school district, who listed health care and economic reform as among her top priorities.

“I didn’t think I’d see an African-American elected president in my lifetime,” said Coleen Eastham, a secretary in the school district’s human resources department. “I grew up in Pasco and went to high school in the ‘70s, and there were some racial conflicts back then, so this is just very special.”

Connie Sheridan, also in the HR department, enjoyed having the students in the room and watching their reactions during the inauguration, even as she imagined how similar moments must have felt for earlier generations of Americans.

“It was great history, like back when Martin Luther King gave his speech,” Sheridan said. “We wanted to be there, like our grandparents when they saw John F. Kennedy. Like a bunch of us said in our department, it’s nice that he did mess up on the speech, because he was human and he was nervous, and we all probably would have done the same thing.”

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