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Reaction to Obama's inauguration: 'I'm just so happy for the children'

Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States  - Contributed poster
Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States
— image credit: Contributed poster

By Scott Rasmussen and Ann Templeton Monin

Cookies, casseroles and homemade chili may have taken an edge off the hunger. But by the time the main course was ready to air, appetites were as strong as ever as islanders crowded into the Friday Harbor High School commons to celebrate the swearing-in of the nation's 44th president, Barack Obama, at a post-inaugural community potluck Tuesday.

It's a safe bet that many would have stuck around for another helping had Obama's inaugural speech been served up again.

Local artist Willow Rose, an enthusiastic Obama supporter, had been on cloud nine most of the day. At the commons, she was back on the ground with a seemingly endless supply of hugs and kisses for old and new friends alike. She said Obama's ascension to the presidency signals that better days are ahead for future generations.

"I just want to go grab my grandchildren and hug them," Rose said. "I'm just so happy for the children."

Sarah Crosby of Democracy Corner, which sponsored the potluck, was tickled pink by the turnout. Crosby said that up until just a few days before the event the group had heard from about a dozen people and were expecting perhaps a few more would show up. Then the telephone began to ring and e-mails started arriving, en masse.

"I'm delighted," Crosby said. "It's definitely more people than we were planning on, but really, I'm not that surprised, just overjoyed by it all."

Nearly every chair and every spot at a dozen or so large round tables set out in the commons, which doubles as the school's cafeteria, were occupied by the time U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office.

With as many as 150 islanders, perhaps more, in attendance, the first-of-its-kind potluck — in which much of the inauguration ceremonies were re-broadcast on a massive movie screen — had mushroomed into a standing-room-only event.

For many, it was more than a re-run of the extraordinary happenings of the day. It was an opportunity to re-witness what's arguably one of the most historic events in the nation's history unfold in the company of family, friends and neighbors.

President Obama's call for a new era of public service resonated strongly with Shann Weston, a long-time island educator and coordinator of WSU's local Beach Watchers program.

Louise Dustrude of Democracy Corner was struck by the contrast between the faces in the crowd amassed at nation's capital for the inauguration and of those gathered later that day in Midland, Texas to celebrate George W. Bush's homecoming.

The capital crowd, she said, mirrors much more closely the ethnic diversity of the nation, she said.

For Steve Simpson, former director of the Port of Friday Harbor, hearing Obama recite an oath so similar to the one that he had uttered decades ago while joining the military was deeply moving.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Simpson said. "There hasn't been a lot that I've had patriotic feelings about lately. I guess I still have them."

Rose said the theme of Obama's inaugural address was love. “For a long time, we had lost our core values as a nation," she said. "Obama and his family remind us of the values that link us together – love, family and connection to each other in our community."

Rose — a minister, massage therapist and artist — said she feels a new sense of hope and direction for our nation.

“We really have turned the corner,” she said. “I feel called to come back into service for the community because it's our turn. We all need to work together to bring about the change.”

Francie Hansen, a retired kindergarten teacher, echoed that sentiment. “I feel really lucky to be a part of the Obama experience,” she said. She soon will travel to South Africa with Global Volunteers, a non-profit international service organization. Nurse Trish Lehman and son, Casey, a senior at Friday Harbor High School, will join Hansen in the rural community of Malungeni, where they will work on education, economic and social projects.

“This is a day I've waited for my whole life long,” said Victoria Foe, a research professor at the Center for Cell Dynamics at the U.W. Friday Harbor Labs. The center conducts research in cell and developmental biology and is one of nine centers funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Foe said that for the first time, she feels America has a leader who shares her beliefs and values. She is drawn toward Obama's sense of compassion, ethics and intelligence, as well as his concern for global issues. “He is preparing us for the most serious crisis we face, global warming,” she said.

Steve Porten believes Obama will work hard to unify the country and heal the nation's wounds. He was inspired by Obama's message of serving others within local communities. Ordinary people are the backbone to building our country, and goodness derives from the common folk, Porten said.

On Orcas Island, public school students and students at Orcas Christian School watched Obama take the oath of office.

At Orcas School, students watched the inauguration on a big-screen television in the gym; middle- and high-schoolers watched it in their classrooms.

At Orcas Christian School, K-12 students watched the inauguration in their classrooms. The high school also participated in a special breakfast.

Teacher Bob Nutt said students were very interested in the morning's proceedings. "In the seventh- and eighth-grade class, everyone stood when Obama took the oath,” Nutt said.

— Colleen Smith Armstrong of The Islands' Weekly contributed to this report.

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