U students, faculty reflect on Obama acceptance

By Jed Layton, Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

DENVER8212;Erika George used two words to describe her feelings as she saw Barack Obama step onto the stage Thursday night to accept the nomination at the Democratic National Convention: proud and triumphant.

George, a U law professor, attended the convention as an alternate for the Utah delegation. She spent the previous days in Denver attending meetings, parties and conventions, but said the highlight of her experience was Obama’s acceptance speech.

“I was tremendously proud,” she said. “I was proud to share in such an important and historic moment for our nation.”

Amid a crowd of more than 84,000 people chanting Obama’s message of change, “Yes, we can,” George remembered the day when Obama told her she could go to Harvard Law School.

George has a personal connection with Obama that goes back to her days as a student at the University of Chicago. George said she met Obama at a gym where they both worked out. George happened to notice a T-shirt Obama was wearing about lawyers. Her curiosity was aroused, so she asked him about it and ended up speaking with Obama about his wife, Michelle Obama, and their days spent as students at Harvard Law School.

“He told me I could do that, too8212;go to Harvard,” she said. “This was the first time I had heard this. I was thinking about law school, but it isn’t often that somebody comes along and tells you something you can do.”

George followed Obama’s advice and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996.

She continued to follow Obama’s career and supported him when he ran for the U.S. Senate. When Obama declared his candidacy for president and began the campaign message of “Yes, we can!” she immediately recognized it as something she had already heard from him. That’s why she was thrilled to be on the convention floor, especially because his speech coincided with the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Obama8212;the first black candidate to be nominated for the presidency by a major political party8212;emphasized King’s vision. Obama said King’s speech could have been negative or angry, but instead he spoke of his hopes and wishes.

“What the people heard instead8212;people of every creed and color, from every walk of life8212;is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one,” Obama said.

In another part of the stadium, Sarah Day, a sophomore in political science and environmental studies, said Obama’s acceptance speech helped people remember the American dream and motivated them to do something about it.

She went to the convention with her mother, Julie Day, the medical director of the Redwood Health Center, a U community clinic. Julie Day attended the convention as an at-large delegate.

Sarah Day was impressed by the directness of Obama’s message.

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land8212;enough!” Obama said. “This moment8212;this election8212;is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.”

“He stood there and said, “Enough!’ and continued to say how he will fight to fix the problems our country is facing,” Sarah Day said.

Julie Day said Obama’s speech left the crowd with a sense of awe.

“The feeling on the floor (of INVSECO Field) was thrilling,” she said. “It is the sense of hope for the future, hope for restoring our country’s moral standing and security that overwhelms people.”

Her daughter felt the same way, even though she sat yards away in the stadium seating.

“I felt a rush of emotion when I first saw Barack come onto the stage,” Sarah Day said. “I felt proud because I know he will be able to turn this country around and get us onto the correct path again when he is president.”

Many attending Obama’s acceptance speech said the most moving segment was his attempt to unify the country despite bipartisan politics.

“The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past,” he said. “What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose8212;our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.”

George was able to connect with Obama’s idea of unity. She appreciated how he suggested that even people disagreeing on issues such as abortion, immigration or gay rights could still find common ground on which to agree.

For example, George said how she could use his advice on a principle she feels is close to home.

“When I was a child, my mother and I were held up at gunpoint on Chicago’s South Side,” she said. “I have a different relationship to guns than my good friend…who counts among his most prized possessions the guns he inherited from his grandfather. But we can find common ground.”

Julie Day said she enjoyed most being part of the election process and sharing it with her daughter.

“I think that a candidate like Barack Obama comes along once in a lifetime,” she said. “Sharing the excitement and inspiration of nominating him for president will be a lifetime memory for both of us.”

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Editor’s Note8212;Jed Layton attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver through the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Shantou University Political Journalism Program.

Ma Jing / Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

The Democratic National Convention concluded with a speech form Barack Obama that had the crowd cheering for his message of change.