BEREA — They campaigned, voted and prayed for this inauguration. Yet the students, staff and faculty who have gathered to watch the event at Berea College still can't believe the images CNN broadcast across the television.
Some students slump into the alumni building lounge and auditorium's big, comfy armchairs and grab a white paper bag full of popcorn from Amanda Dow, a Berea staffer. Other students, clad in toboggans and big coats, had planned to just pass through the building, but they stop when they see the crowded streets of Washington, D.C., splashed across the flat screen in the lobby.
Many students at this liberal hamlet in Madison County have come because they need to see Barack Obama put his hand on that historic Bible and promise to lead this country. They want to hear what he has to say about this nation's future. And they want to see his message of hope come to fruition.
"I'm excited about this new era," says Richie Thompson, 20, a Berea junior. Thompson holds hands with his girlfriend, Grace Cole, while celebrities and dignitaries arrive at the inauguration. "I feel like America is going on the right path."
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A few feet away in the lounge, Donovan Harrison takes pictures of his friends as they hold the latest copy of Black Enterprise magazine. The new president's face is plastered on the cover next to the words, "Yes, We Must!"
Harrison, usually a late riser, has been up since 7 a.m., and he had considered waking up even earlier in anticipation of the inauguration.
"I honestly just really, really cannot believe this," says Harrison, 20, a junior.
Harrison sits in the front row of black leather chairs when Obama takes the stage. He and his friends laugh and groan when Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts fumble some of the words of the oath of office. But the giggles stop when the nation's new leader begins to speak.
Karissa Pritchett wipes away tears as Obama addresses the world.
"I never thought I would see the day when a black person would run for president and win," she says.
Soon after Obama takes his seat to listen to poets and preachers celebrate a new era, Pritchett and the other viewers begin to disperse. They have seen their proof. Proof that history has been made. Proof that a change can happen in America. And proof that yes, they can.