Students revel at Obama Elementary School

January 20, 2009 9:12:30 PM PST
Some stood and recited the oath along with the new president. Others shouted "Amen" at the end of the invocation. In school gyms, libraries and auditoriums around the country, schoolchildren cheered and waved American flags Tuesday, participating in the historic inauguration of the nation's 44th president. Perhaps no school in the country celebrated with more enthusiasm than the hundreds of students at the newly renamed Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead, Long Island.

"I was just speechless. I don't even have the words to explain the feelings," said Principal Jean Bligen, who won tickets to the inaugural in a lottery, but decided the only place she wanted to be Tuesday was with her students. "It was remarkable. Absolutely remarkable."

Officials in the predominantly minority school district voted soon after Election Day to rename one of their facilities in honor of the Illinois Democrat. All 460 students sported navy blue sweat shirts emblazoned with "Barack Obama Elementary School - Yes We Can" on their chests.

The school is about a mile from Hofstra University, where Obama and Sen. John McCain took part in the final presidential debate of the campaign. Students who followed the debates later suggested that their school be named for the new president, school officials said.

"I think that they renamed the school because they believe that Barack Obama was a great leader to many people such as myself," said fifth-grader Esta Thomas, 10, before tago, African-Americans couldn't come in to the school, couldn't get the same education as Caucasians and now the leader of the free world is African-American," said Afshar Sanati, the school's student body president, who is Iranian-American. "That's just kind of awe-inspiring."

Back at Obama Elementary School, fourth-grade teacher Sharon Edmonston's eyes were still crimson from crying as the new president gave his inaugural address.

"I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an African-American president," she said. "It brought me back to being about 7 years old and I remember watching the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King and learning what that was all about. So as I was watching President Barack Obama being sworn in, it's mind boggling to me. I still can't wrap my brain around it."