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Saint James students watch history

January 20, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ST. JAMES -- A packed auditorium at Saint James School cheered and clapped when Barack Obama was sworn in as president on the big-screen TV.

Maybe a stronger celebration was in order, Will Howard of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said later, but no one started a standing ovation, so it didn't happen.

For him and several other students, though, the excitement was real.

"I was, like, about to cry, I was so happy," said Callan Spicher of Hagerstown. "It was incredible. I'm so glad to be alive to see it happen."

Obama won a mock election at the Episcopal private school south of Hagerstown on Nov. 4 by a wider margin than the national election, students said.

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Even students with reservations about Obama's presidency had kind words to say on Tuesday.

Elizabeth Draper of Hagerstown said she disagrees with him on abortion and wrote a piece for the school newspaper, for which she is an editor.

But she was moved watching Obama become the country's first black president "because it was so historical," she said.

They'll differ philosophically, but "I'll give him a day off," she quipped.

Saint James' morning classes were cut short so students could watch the inauguration together.

Jamie Howard of Richmond, Va., referred to himself as staunchly Republican. Yet, he liked Obama's tone and openness in his inaugural address.

"I think it was one of the best speeches I've ever heard," Howard said.

"I liked hearing how he said African-Americans can now be empowered," said Michael Townes of Hagerstown.

The Rev. D. Stuart Dunnan, the headmaster, grew up in Washington, D.C.

He said he was young in 1968 when people came to D.C. in droves to protest. Now, a larger crowd was there to celebrate a momentous achievement, he said.

Elliott Walker, a student from Durham, N.C., said Obama captures the student body's attention like no other president has.

"He's the cool new president and everyone wants to be on the bandwagon," Walker said.

Seung Wook Yoo of South Korea was more circumspect. He wondered if Obama pushed too far in his pledge to defeat the world's rogue elements.

As students filed out of the auditorium, Ted Camp, chairman of the history and religion department, agreed that younger people connect well with Obama.

Camp said many liken Obama to Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln wasn't nearly as popular when he started his presidency. Truer parallels, he said, are with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 or John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Olubanke Martins, who was born in Nigeria and raised in Silver Spring, Md., said she wants to be a doctor and supports Obama's pledge for medical malpractice reform.

Eli Orfan of Hagerstown, also politically opposite from Obama, said he appreciated Obama's sincerity and the inauguration's significance.

"I respect how great it is for this country," he said.

"I was really proud of being an African-American at that moment," said Tierra Jones of Florence, Ala.

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