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Historic inauguration inspires residents

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Gazette Staff
January 21, 2009
— After Barack Obama was sworn in Tuesday, Theresa Greer raised her arm and yelled, "Yes!"

"We have our first black president. I'm definitely proud because it doesn't put any limitations on what I can do," the black woman said. "Nobody can say, 'You can't do this.'"


Greer and about 50 others huddled around a big-screen TV in Blackhawk Technical College's entryway to watch Obama become the nation's first black president.


The sight was common throughout Janesville as people gathered around TVs in schools, libraries and other places to witness the historic event.


It was a moment Greer thought never would happen.


"We've always talked about a black president, but to see it and to witness it, it's an honor," Greer said. "It is awesome."


During Obama's inauguration speech, the crowd around the TV grew as passersby stopped. The volume was cranked up twice so everyone could hear.


Students and staff members listened attentively. They often clapped and cheered while Obama spoke.


A few women admitted becoming emotional but managed to withhold tears.


Keith Griffin, a Blackhawk student, took a half day off work to watch the inauguration. It was a proud moment for him and other black men.


Griffin said Obama was inspiring. He said he wants to answer Obama's call and help his country.


"I was moved by his whole speech," Griffin said. "I'm going to try and do my part."


Craig High School

Students in an economics class at Janesville Craig High School watched Obama's inaugural speech quietly. Some seemed intent, some not so much.


Students interviewed immediately after the speech said Obama's words had an impact.


Ryan Kelly, 18, sported a T-shirt bearing Obama's image and the words: "Yes, we did."


"Everything is changing," Kelly said. "I think that's good. We need change from the direction our country is going."


"I'm very impressed with his speech, and I feel very good about where we go from here in this country," said Korinne Sparks, 17.


"I was inspired," said Greg Squire, 17. "I'm excited about the opportunity we have to grow as a country."


Not every high school student is interested in politics, of course.


"I could care less," one student remarked as the class filed into the hall after the speech.


But Sokphors Phon, 17, said many of his peers are interested in how the Obama presidency will unfold.


Asked if he thinks Obama can effect the changes he has promised, Phon said: "I expect it."


Hedberg Public Library

A small, quiet crowd gathered around a television at Hedberg Public Library to witness the inauguration.


Elizabeth Hough clasped her hands under her chin as Obama approached the podium, placed his left hand on an antique Bible and raised his right hand.


"Oh God, here it comes," she said.


As Obama spoke of "gathering clouds and raging storms," Hough pursed her lips in seriousness.


As he spoke of choosing "hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," her eyes grew wide.


And as he spoke of how we must "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," she breathed a sigh.


The rest of the crowd remained silent, taking in the scene, the content of the speech and the weight of an historic moment.


Hough, the public information coordinator for the library, said she was inspired by Obama's inaugural address.


"No matter what he says or does, I think everyone just wants to go forward," she said. "That's his message, and it resonates with everyone."


Anders Jenski of Janesville said the speech left him feeling as if he's part of something bigger.


"What he's saying is it's not just a one-man deal," he said. "We have to work together. We have to be a part of the solution."


And for Davion Smith, a black teenager in Janesville, the inauguration was about hope.


"This is pretty wild," he said, noting he's looking forward to living in a more prosperous, more respected, more unified United States.


"We can only hope," he said.


Huntington Place

Silence filled the upstairs library room at Huntington Place, an assisted living facility in Janesville, as a small group of residents and staff watched Obama's address on a big screen TV.


"Great," resident Ethel Watson said as Obama concluded.


"It brought tears to my eyes," resident Pat Anderson said. "I think he's a man who brings in justice. I really was impressed."


One woman who didn't want her name used said, "We're not black and white, we're just people."


She said she never thought she'd live to see a black person elected president.


"If he's good, that's right," she said.


"He's ready," activity director Kathy Ruck said.


Ruck said she thought Obama seemed young and a little naive during the campaign, "and I didn't see that at all (Tuesday), which really helped me," she said after his speech.


The group of women raved about first lady Michelle Obama's clothing choices and her height.


As former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, boarded a helicopter bound for Texas, the women discussed the family vacation the Bush family will take.


"They should," one woman said, "they deserve it."



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