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Area residents gather to view inauguration

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Imani Warden was eager for Barack Obama to assume the presidency Tuesday.

"Why are they still calling him the president-elect?" the Clayton State University political science major wondered aloud.

"It's because he has not officially taken office yet. [George W.] Bush is still the president until noon," Shanique Griffiths, an integrative studies major, shot back.

Warden, Griffiths and about 200 others gathered in Clayton State's Student Activity Center to watch a broadcast of Obama's swearing in as the nation's first black president. Many applauded when they saw Obama prepare to walk onto the inaugural stage, and several bowed their heads when the Rev. Rick Warren gave the invocation.

The attendees stood when Obama took the oath of office. During his inaugural address, several people took pictures of one of the three projections screens showing the ceremony.

"It's as it should be," said Laverne Hayes, a psychology major. "I go back to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation. They gave us our freedom and made us equals with other people. This inauguration proves what was said back then really is true today."

Some in the audience, like Michelle Furlong, chairwoman of Clayton State's natural science department, cried during the ceremonies. "It's been a long time coming," said Furlong. "No. 1, to get past the [Bush] administration, and No. 2 to see a black man become president. I'm just overwhelmed, and pretty happy right now."

Afterward, several students, professors, and community members said they were pleased with Obama's inaugural address, in which he called for unity in the face of the nation's challenges.

"I was surprised by his call to perceived aggressors wherein he said we will not be put asunder because we are here for the greater good," said Wendy Burns-Ardolino, director of Clayton State's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. "I didn't think it would be a part of his speech... I just thought he would dwell on the commonalties of all Americans and the significance of the inauguration."

Sharon Peterson, a resident of Jonesboro, also took note of Obama's comments on the War on Terror. Peterson attended the inaugural viewing in Morrow with her daughter, Shaquinta Milton, also of Jonesboro, and her 9-month-old grandson, Jaden Milton.

"I was glad he talked about bringing the troops home from Iraq because that's a passion of mine," said Peterson, who spent 14 years in the Army Reserve.

Warden, the political science major, said Obama's address captured a moment in time.

"He definitely addressed everything we are facing in the nation right now," she said. "It didn't feel like he was talking to any particular group either. He was basically talking to everyone."

Among the youngest viewers were Jaden Milton and Khalil Raines, 4, of McDonough, who were brought by their parents to watch the broadcast of the inauguration.

"He doesn't really understand what's going on, but one day he will, and he can reflect on what this day meant and what he can aspire to be," said Christa Raines, Khalil's mother.

Shaquinta Milton said she wanted her son, Jaden, to know he witnessed history unfold. "This is a time in history that I want him to grow up and say 'When I was a baby, my mother had me there to be a part of history,'" said Milton.

A day before the inauguration, U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) issued a statement pledging his support for the new president. "I have great confidence in the ability of President Obama to bring the people of this nation together and lead with integrity," he said.

Among the spectators crowded onto the National Mall were 40 Clayton County social studies teachers who stood roughly a mile away from the U.S. Capitol, said Damon Marshall, a North Clayton High School teacher who was part of the group.

"Everyone was very cordial with each other," said Marshall. "You saw kids walking around, high-fiving each other ... You just saw people of all ethnicities there, enjoying themselves. Everyone was very peaceful, and very relaxed."

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and his wife, Mary, were also among the inaugural attendees.

"Mary and I were honored to attend today's ceremony and our prayers are with President and Mrs. Obama as they take on this awesome responsibility," the governor said in a statement. "Georgia looks forward to continuing to work closely with the incoming administration as we address our softening economy, and the impact it is having on our citizens."

Elsewhere in Clayton County, several public schools held inauguration-related events. Clayton County Public Schools spokesman Charles White said administrators at every school in the county were asked to take advantage of Obama's inauguration for educational purposes.

White said the district's central office received confirmation that several schools had special academic projects planned to incorporate the event. These projects included writing assignments and math projects.

Among some of the activities:

· Morrow Middle School unveiled its "Civic Responsibility Wall," which features photographs of several national, state, and local elected officials who represent the school's student body.

· Students in Hawthorne Elementary School's Producing Excellence That Always Leads to Success (P.E.T.A.L.S.), and Males and Mentors (M&Ms) groups took an oath to strive for personal excellence.

· Fourth-graders at E.J. Swint Elementary School sang and read essays at KISS 104.1's Inauguration Celebration at the Atlanta Civic Center.