Around Columbia, residents partake in inauguration celebrations

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 | 1:17 p.m. CST; updated 10:22 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

COLUMBIA — On any other Tuesday morning, Donna Clayborne would be working in the accounting office at Stephens College.

Today, she took time off to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama at a celebration held at Nephew's Nite Life in Columbia.

Clayborne wasn't alone. Around the country people paused and turned their attention to Washington, D.C., as the nation's first black president was sworn in. Watch parties were held at Rock Bridge High School, on the MU campus and at Ragtag Cinema.

"I really wanted to come and be united with other African-Americans to celebrate this blessed occasion," Clayborne said. "There was darkness, but now there's light at the end of the tunnel."

She and her friend cheered as television cameras caught glimpses of Obama walking to the ceremony.

"Oh my God, he's so beautiful!" she said, clapping her hands.

About 40 people were gathered at the Nephew's event, which was  sponsored by the bar, the Frederick Douglass Coalition and members of Columbia's black community. Talk and laughter filtered through the room, but as the anticipated event drew closer, people began to fall silent.

As the president was sworn in shortly after 11 a.m. CDT, Clayborne and almost all in the bar stood up, eyes glued to the television with rapt attention.

As Obama finished the oath of office, they burst into applause and cheers.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" one woman cried, waving her arms high in the air.

The inauguration fell on the first day of the new semester at MU, creating a time conflict with morning classes. Some professors sent e-mails asking students to show up for their morning classes in spite of the inauguration, promising they'd be able to watch part of the event in class.

Denise Elshoff, a music professor at MU, sat in Stotler Lounge at MU's Memorial Union about an hour before the swearing-in ceremony.

Elshoff said she'd voted for Obama in November. Since the election, she said she's been feeling optimistic, excited and hopeful as President George W. Bush was about to leave office.

She said she wasn't worried that Obama might fall short of her expectations. She didn't think it would take much to adjust to the fact that she'd no longer be opposed to the country's leader. 

"I'm hoping things won't be so much 'us-versus-them,'" Elshoff said.

At Rock Bridge High School, some teachers allowed their students to watch the event in class. Others watched in the school's common area, and about 300 gathered in the Performing Arts Center to watch during their free period.

Skylar Tolson, a senior, said he wasn't old enough to vote for Obama during the election. But the inauguration ceremony still held a special significance for him.

"I felt a sense of pride in being an African-American," he said.

Leslie Scott, a teachers aide, said she chose to cast her vote for Obama after Sen. Hillary Clinton, her first choice for the office, endorsed him.

Scott said she's been feeling nervous since November's election. Sometimes she couldn't sleep, she said, because she's been excited to see a change coming. 

Scott said the most important issue the Obama administration faces is the economy.

"Everyone's gotta work together," she said. "Change doesn't come overnight."

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