At 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, Mills students began filling the Student Union to await the election results. In a historical Presidential race that mobilized a record number of young people, the room buzzed with excitement and anticipation.
A quick two hours later, CNN announced Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. The room immediately erupted in cheers and shouts as the over 200 students, staff and faculty present celebrated, many hugging one another and crying.
“I am absolutely elated!” Daphne Muse, director for the Women’s Leadership Institute, exclaimed. A civil rights organizer in the American South during the 1960s, she said, “A lot of people gave their lives for this to happen.”
The WLI partnered with the Institute for Civic Leadership in sponsoring the event. There was pizza and other refreshments, and a raffle with political-themed prizes.
President Janet Holmgren was in attendance, but left before the announcement was made.
Students drew a map of the U.S., and each state was colored in either blue or red as the network called them. After intently watching McCain officially concede the race, and Obama’s acceptance speech, students shared what the election meant to them.
Cecilia Aguilera, a junior roundtable fellow for WLI, described her family’s struggles as Mexican Americans during the Great Depression.
“I never felt like I had a place in this country. I never fit,” she said. “Now, I feel like an American.”
Nadine Dixon, an ICL scholar last year, said Obama’s win “is about humanity and the rights of every individual to have a voice in what happens.”
“I look at Obama, and this room of all of us, and I feel a coming alive,” Dixon said.
Muse told the crowd, “I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be here.”
“This is how democracy works. Sisters, you got to work it,” she said.
The mood was diminished only by concerns of Proposition 8, a proposed amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage.
Even in early results it was ahead, and eventually passed. Moderator Stephanie Mazow, assistant director for Foundation and Corporate Relations at Mills, told students not to give up. “[They] can’t tell you how to live or who to love so it doesn’t matter,” she said.