Embracing an historic moment

The Nov. 4 election resulted in a landslide electoral victory for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the Hawaiian-born son of a Kenyan father, who will become America’s first black president.

Harvard-Westlake chose Obama by a 76 percent margin in a Mock Election a week earlier.

Two screens set up at both ends of the field at Grant Park relayed the CNN coverage of the election and broadcast Obama’s speech to the throngs of people who had shown up to see him speak.

“We were there all day celebrating every time a new projection came out,” Michael Kaplan ’08, a student at Northwestern University in nearby Evanston said.

As it became clearer that Obama was going to be the victor, all the major news stations began broadcasting live images of the scene in Grant Park.

“There were thousands of people there, but the mood was markedly different than what was shown on television,” said Ali Pechman ’08, also a Northwestern freshman. “It was a much younger crowd, mostly students.”

“I saw a lot of people with their mini flashlights and books studying for midterms during the commercial breaks,” Pechman said. “I saw dozens of people I knew from Northwestern and other schools and during Obama’s speech when he mentioned young voters or people who were voting for the first time, everyone on the field started screaming.”

Julian Hicks ’08, who attended the rally with Pechman and two other friends from Northwestern University, reflected on the heightened mood of the audience as the crowds in Grant Park witnessed Obama’s gradual rise to President-elect.

“As it got closer and closer to Obama being announced as President-elect, you could really feel the excitement,” Hicks said. “I cried. It was very emotional.”

Kaplan vividly remembers when the CNN coverage on the big screens in the park announced Obama as the winner of the election.

The celebration didn’t end at Grant Park, but continued into the early hours of the morning in the streets of Chicago.

“When he won, we were high-fiving and hugging the people around us whose entire life stories we knew because we had been standing in the same place all day,” Kaplan said. “People were dancing in the streets until 3 a.m. It felt very surreal, almost like a revolution.”

Pechman said the actual rally was more passionate and emotional in person than how it appeared on television.

“Walking the streets of Chicago afterwards with all 125,000 people was amazing,” she said. “Crossing over the Chicago River, the whole bridge was packed with bodies who were cheering and hugging each other. As a journalist, student, and citizen, it was an incredible place to be.”

Chris Ballard ’08, who attends Georgetown University, went to the celebration that erupted outside of the White House.

“I wanted to be a part of this key moment in history.” Ballard said.

“There really was no excuse not to go because I attend school in the area.”