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Faculty reflects on a historic election

By Denebola
Published: November 2008

By Ilana Sivachenko and Stephan Houtchens

After eight years of President George Bush, a leader with one of the lowest approval ratings in modern history, perhaps it is not surprising that the Democratic candidate recaptured the White House in 2008. But the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency of the United States represents more than just reaction to Republican misrule.

One of Obama’s greatest strengths was his appeal to the youth vote, something that was extremely evident at Newton South on Election Day, when many kids turned up at school wearing Obama shirts or buttons. But for South faculty who have see decade’s worth of political history unfold before them, Obama’s election had even more significance.

For some South teachers who saw the civil rights movement and its after effects, Obama’s election is extremely important because he is an African-American.

History department head Marshall Cohen, who grew up in the Jim Crow South seeing “white and “colored water fountains, cannot believe how far America has progressed.

“I think for anybody my age it was hard to believe. It’s especially true from my friends that were African American and my age. They never allowed themselves to believe it was possible. All during the campaign, even at times when I thought it might happen, they were saying, ‘Ëœit’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen,’ Cohen said. “There was just tremendous euphoria when it happened.

Perhaps Obama’s greatest appeal, however, was not his identity, but rather his simple message of “change which he repeated for nearly two years as he fought a long primary with Hillary Clinton and then ran against John McCain in the general election. Many South teachers who have viewed the past several decades of conservative dominance in politics, this change is welcome.

Latin teacher Alice Lanckton feels that “[the election] has given the U.S and the world [through foreign affairs] a greater sense of hope.

The success of Barack Obama, according to history teacher Kara Henry, was not because of his skin color. It was Obama’s aspirations and his dynamic idea of ‘Ëœchange’ that got him elected to the highest office.

History teacher Brian Murray feels that Obama, a former constitutional law professor, will uphold the nation’s founding document better than his predecessor.

“He is someone who not only appreciates the constitution, but also understands [its] level of depth, Murray said.

While rivaling John McCain, Obama and his popular idea of ‘Ëœchange’ began to influence even McCain to introduce a similar idea.  However, Murray believes that “they weren’t able to successfully convey that.

Murray believes Obama will be able to truly succeed in making “change unless the American people do more than just vote for him. Average Americans, he said, would have to make ‘Ëœchange’ little by little, in their everyday lives.

“Both [parties] were claiming that they could fix the economy, but only millions of average Americans can fix the economy, Murray said.

Some teachers though, are concerned that while Obama may want to bring change to America, he will find it very difficult.

“I don’t know how much is going to change. I don’t know if anything will change. English teacher Jeremiah Hill said. “I think [Obama] wants [to implement 'Ëœchange' in the school systems], but he has so much else to deal with, I don’t think schools will be at the top of his list, Hill said.

Having a president who can craft great oratory and write best-selling is music to the ears of English teachers, especially given the contrast with the current president.

“It is very exciting to have a president elect who is able to put together a coherent sentence [and] who can give a good speech, Hill said.

Cohen also belives Obama’s election represents the ascendency of a new generation of Americans, one that is more diverse, tolerant and educated than the previous one.

“This is the first time in my lifetime, [that] I’ve got  a president younger than I am, he said. “Bill Clinton and I were about the same age. But Obama’s younger and he represents, a different outlook on a lot of things out there that people of my generation and older have.

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