Paul Davis, a Southern Oregon University graduate student, reacts as Barack Obama becomes the nation’s first African-American president. Davis and hundreds of others gathered around the big-screen television at SOU’s Stevenson Union to watch Obama take the oath of office. - Jim Craven

SOU crowd praises tide of change

ASHLAND — Just as it was on the Washington, D.C., mall, it was standing room only around Southern Oregon University's big screen TV Monday as Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

"It's fabulous," said Kate Caldwell, a social worker, as she wept with joy. "We're already changing — the government and us personally. We can't continue business as usual and expect a good outcome. We all need not to be so complacent.

"He's a loving and respectful person," she said, "and that's why great things are going to happen."

Her daughter, SOU student Emily Caldwell, was equally ecstatic.

"It's amazing," she said. "Happy days are here again! This is so needed! The change is a new activism for people in this country and around the world. People are so inspired by him. He's talking responsibility politically, morally, environmentally and spiritually and becoming more aware of what we're doing and how we affect other people."

The Caldwells joined about 400 enthusiastic students, staff and SOU faculty in Stevenson Union's Rogue River Room, enjoying a free breakfast of banana bread, fruit and coffee, while they chatted about the day's momentous events. Applause broke out as Obama completed the oath of office.

Antwun Baker, an African-American student, wore a shirt picturing both Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the festivities.

"I feel part of history today," said Baker, a junior studying recreation. "I feel confidence about change for the better. This is what everyone fought for and got locked up for"¦and now we have the first African-American president."

Emi Becker, a sophomore in economics, said she was feeling "awesome, very excited and happy.

"I want us out of the war," she said. "I want peace and for us to start taking care of the planet. I'm happy someone I can respect is in office."

Dr. Deltra Ferguson, coordinator of the SOU Women's Resource Center, said Obama's triumph showed how much attitudes have changed in America.

"I've been working for freedom and equality a long time," she said. "This is an affirmation of the depth of all humankind. We can change. It's about the power of the people, and I mean all the people of the world."

Tami Dickinson, a junior in nursing, watched George W. Bush board his helicopter to leave Washington and said, "I feel relieved he's finally done. It's like it's eight years too late, but now I feel this amazing sense of appreciation and gratitude about how far we've come in this country. You can see our potential."

Jonathan Eldridge, SOU's vice president for student affairs, said he was pleased with Obama's "focus on bringing people together, uniting us for the challenge facing us. He has a new style of leadership. It's truly a historic moment for our nation."

Eldridge said he wouldn't be surprised at some unexpected, short-term fix for the "broken economy."

SOU staff employee Karina Woodland noted the new president's clear speaking style.

"I'm overwhelmed at how well he's able to articulate what lives in the hearts of Americans and to speak it in powerful, clear emotions, so real, so refreshing," she said. "He's going to rekindle a rededication to loyalty and truth."

Dr. Dee Southard, director of SOU's McNair Program, which helps low-income students earn advanced degrees, said she's hoping to see a national public works program soon.

"I'm so hopeful," she said. "It's a collective expression of hope, to do something very different."

Many professors canceled classes to allow students to see the historic inauguration, broadcast on C-SPAN with voice recognition subtitles that tried to keep up with speakers, sometimes with comical results.

The crowd howled during a prayer when instead of "shouting in heaven," the subtitle read "shopping in heaven."

Students, faculty and staff lingered over coffee and tea to take in on-screen poetry readings and music, but an hour later, the campus was back to normal.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Share This Story