Tears welled in Renee Stokes’ spellbound eyes as she watched President Barack Obama take the oath of office.
The 55-year-old Schenectady resident never thought she’d live to see a black president. And she never thought she’d be filled with so much hope.
“I didn’t think in my lifetime I’d see it,” she said Tuesday at the GE Theatre at Proctors, her voice still filled with emotion. “It gave me hope for my grandchildren.”
Stokes was among a standing-room-only crowd that watched the inauguration streamed live on the 434-seat theater’s large screen. The mass gathering erupted into an uproarious standing ovation as Obama uttered the last words of his oath and remained quietly captivated as he delivered his inaugural address.
When the president’s speech ended, more than half the crowd remained to hear the Rev. Joseph Lowery deliver the benediction. They stood at attention and sang along as the Navy chorus ended the program with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Scores of people paused their daily routine to watch history in the making Tuesday morning. Those who couldn’t make it to Washington flocked to areas that hosted big-screen broadcasts of the inauguration at theaters, churches and assorted other gathering places throughout the Capital Region.
Each of those interviewed seemed to have a different reason for watching the historic event. But they all seemed united in the theme they carried away from Obama’s first message as president — new hope is dawning.
“All these people are filled with hope right now,” said Lisa Burton of Glenville, who took a half-day off from her job as a teaching assistant to watch the speech at Proctors.
Behind her sat Raven Short and Nazinga Thomas, seniors at Troy’s Catholic Central High School, who ditched classes to see Obama’s address on the big screen. Neither wanted to take the chance they might miss some of the speech at school, and neither cared whether their teachers found out about their truancy.
“It’s an important day,” said Short.
“It was worth it,” Thomas interjected. “He made history.”
Four-year-old Genia Abbey waved a pair of miniature American flags in the theater as her mother, Clara Mehserle of Niskayuna, watched the big screen. Mehserle said Obama’s unlikely rise to the presidency instilled her with a sense that the American dream is still within grasp for her daughter.
“I feel like for the first time I can tell her she can be anything she wants to be,” she said.
Craig Kinbrough of Albany finished working his shift at Proctors just in time to catch Obama’s speech. For him, Obama’s presidency represents the culmination of all his family’s struggles from the civil rights movement onward.
He reflected upon his grandparents, who grew up in Chicago and lived through the racial strife that characterized their generation. He said Obama’s taking office had instilled in them and the rest of his family a renewed sense of optimism for the nation’s future.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said afterward. “The things they have weathered and the things that have happened to them.”
In Albany, nearly 400 people caught the inauguration ceremony at the concourse level of the Empire State Plaza. The state Office of General Services set out about 100 chairs for the live broadcast, which was shown on the New York Network’s flat screen television.
“The space was packed,” said Brad Maione, a spokesman for OGS. “Obviously, the crowd was very excited.”
In Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College students watched Obama’s speech on TV in a transfixed silence at the Case Center. There was no stray conversation as the young adults listened to Obama speak on their first day of classes after winter break.
Wendy Bagnasco, who voted for Obama like most Skidmore students, acknowledged the hype that surrounds the new president as he takes the reins from a relatively unpopular leader. She expressed relief to see an end to the Bush presidency, which she characterized as a “dark moment in our history.
“Hopefully we’ll be forgiving for [Obama] not being a god,” she said after his address.
Students also discussed the pressing need for Obama to somehow find a way to jump-start the lagging economy. Others were encouraged by his speech touching upon environmental issues and not focusing solely on the ongoing economic woes.
“He’s not changing his message halfway through,” said Ben Forman, a junior.
Like many others, the students seemed to echo a chorus of hope that Obama can effect real change in a nation marred by apathy and disillusionment. Daniel Bruchez, a government major from Wellesley, Mass., was cautiously optimistic about the future direction of the nation’s governance.
“It’s nice to feel like there’s hope,” he said “I’m still sort of disheartened with how things are run.”
At Proctors, Stokes had loftier hope for the good will that has ushered in the Obama administration. The mother of three, grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of three was praying the change might bring peace to Schenectady’s violent neighborhoods.
“I hope Schenectady can come together as one and stop all this violence that’s killing our young,” she said, wiping away tears. “Every time there’s gunfire and a life is taken, that life could have been like Obama.”