It was standing-room only in 400-seat Keck Theater on the Occidental College campus as students, staff, and faculty gathered to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama ’83 on Jan. 20.
Students began lining up outside the venue hours before the swearing-in ceremony, which was slated to begin at 8 a.m. Pacific time. Several students even spent the night outside the theater to ensure a seat inside.
The flag-festooned facility was also swarmed with media , including more than a dozen English-, Spanish-, Korean-, and Japanese-language television crews, wire service and radio reporters, and journalists from as far away as Australia.
Students received free T-shirts with Obama’s image and commemorative buttons that declared "Barry Was Here" next to a morphed image of Obama’s Occidental application headshot and a current photograph. Outside the theater, they also snapped photos with a life-sized photographic cutout of Obama below a large banner reading "Congratulations President Obama ’83."
Inside the bunting-draped theater, which displayed a banner that read, "Barack Rocks!," students cheered, clapped, and rose to their feet several times during the ceremony, shown on a movie theater-sized television screen.
Erik Quezada, a senior international relations major from Azusa, told reporter Larry Gordon from the Los Angeles Times, of Obama: "He walked the same halls I did. He ate the same food I did. He breathed the same air I did. It’s cathartic almost, but I love it."
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez sat in the theater with senior Lindsay Washington, an African American student from Washington, D.C. He devoted his entire column the next day to the inauguration-watching party at Occidental, concluding: "Washington left the auditorium a citizen of California and a child of Washington, where an African American lives in the White House and anything seems possible. She was on her way to a class in East Asian politics. In her pocket was her Occidental ID badge, with its Obama-sounding mission statement printed on the back -- an educational and social experience that prepares students ‘for leadership in an increasingly complex, interdependent and pluralistic world.’"
Occidental, located in Eagle Rock in northeast Los Angeles, was founded in 1887 and enrolls 1,850 students. Obama, then known as Barry, arrived from Hawaii to attend Oxy from 1979 to 1981. He made his first forays into political activism there in a campaign against the college investments in firms doing business in South Africa during apartheid. In his books and numerous interviews, he has credited Occidental with nurturing his political awakening.