2009-01-22 / Front Page

Obama Inauguration Stirs Vermonters

By M. D. Drysdale

Obama Inauguration Stirs Vermonters By M. D. Drysdale

Students and staff of Vermont Law School and members of the community watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama in South Royalton Tuesday. Here's the overflow crowd in the hallway. (Herald / Tim Calabro)Students and staff of Vermont Law School and members of the community watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama in South Royalton Tuesday. Here's the overflow crowd in the hallway. (Herald / Tim Calabro)

Even though the speakers in Washington, D.C. couldn’t hear it, they were interrupted by applause at least 15 times by a couple hundred students and community members gathered Tuesday at Vermont Law School.

As in other gatherings throughout the country and even the world, the enthusiasm was palpable in the crowd. They applauded for Joe Biden and for Aretha Franklin and Rick Warren. They clapped when an overview of the National Mall came on the screen.

They burst into cheers when an announcer interrupted a musical performance at exactly 12 noon to say that even though he hadn’t been sworn in, Barack Obama was at that moment President of the United States.

And when the swearing-in came they all stood up, as requested by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein from her place at the dias.

But some of the loudest and longest applause at the VLS gathering came for one of their own—Associate Dean Shirley Jefferson. Jefferson was a black high school student in Selma, Ala., at the time of the violence there in the 1960s, and her brief speech left no doubt about the emotional impact of the inauguration of the nation’s first black president among those who had lived the civil rights struggle.

"This is a day for all of us," she began; and she made it clear that she wanted to celebrate it right there in South Royalton.

"In 1982 I applied here, and it was a man who read my application.

"Right here," she continued, "is where I let a lot of my hatreds go.

"I love Vermont Law School.

"I love Vermont. This is a great place."

As the young audience fell into hushed attention, she recalled the optimism of her father who told her, "All you’ve got to do is try—and people will come along and help you." That, she said, has proven true in her life.

"What I feel today, I wouldn’t take a million dollars for.

"I never thought I would see this day."

Welcome

VLS Dean Jeff Shields welcomed the crowd about 11:15 a.m., making special mention of community members and high school students who had responded to the open invitation.

A member of the Black Law School Association at the law school, Muhammad El Gawhary, was also eloquent. He started by reminding his audience that a "racial gap … remains in America.

"But that is not our focus for today," he said. "We leave that for another day. Or rather, we leave that for the change that tomorrow will bring.

"Instead, today we choose to focus on the revival of America and on rebuilding bridges, between each other and to a better future …

"The American Constitution has been resurrected. The American dream, reawakened.

"Today, America is truly worthy of being called leader of the free world."

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