600,000 flock to National Mall to hear Obama

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
Published January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — Although young voters’ support for President Barack Obama’s re-election was predicted to waver in November’s election, thousands of college-aged students descended on the Capitol Monday to celebrate the inauguration ceremony.

Hundreds of thousands of people — predominantly minority groups and females — braved the cold on the National Mall and along the parade route to see and celebrate the president taking the oath of office. Considerably fewer people attended Monday’s events than Obama’s first inauguration, but those in attendance were noticeably excited about his re-election.

Eager spectators donned Obama apparel, danced to Stevie Wonder and chanted across Pennsylvania Avenue in anticipation of seeing the first couple make their way from the Capitol Building toward the White House following the inaugural address. Volunteers worked to keep the crowd enthused.

LSA senior Michael Nevitt, who attended the inauguration with a group of University students, said he’s been a supporter of Obama since 2008 when he worked on the then-senator’s presidential campaign. He said resisting cuts in Pell Grant funding so more students could attain a higher education was one of the biggest factors in his decision to support the president.

Nevitt added that he believes Obama could improve on issues affecting college students such as tuition affordability and the environmental protection.

“He said some progressive things about climate change today,” Nevitt said, of the address. “But I’d like to see a stronger commitment and stronger goals because I didn’t think that was addressed enough in his first term.”

LSA senior Lauren Coffman, the communications director of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, said the president’s focus on LGBT issues during his speech was a welcome addition. ABC News reported that Obama made history as the first president to use the word “gay” in an inaugural address.

“The president laid out his vision for his second term and highlights our nation's continuing struggle for equality for all citizens,” Coffman, who traveled to Washington D.C., said. “His support for LGBT rights and undocumented students set a historic precedent for equality and inclusion.”

Stephan Coleman, a 2010 graduate of the University of Maryland and current Maryland resident, said he hopes Obama continues to push for lower student loan debt rates in his second term.

“Four years ago, tuition was seriously high ... now it’s so much better since (Obama)’s been in there,” Coleman said. “I think there’s so much more work to do though.”

George Washington University sophomore Adey Debebe also said the student loan issue played a crucial role in her support for Obama and believes the president is a major advocate for college students.

“He said it in his inaugural speech: It’s all about helping us so we can help this country further in the future,” Debebe said. “He doesn’t want us to be unemployed when we come out of school ... I think it’s really important that people pay attention to that kind of thing.”

Jessi Wolz, Washington, D.C. resident and recent graduate of George Washington University, said she’s optimistic about the president’s next four years in office.

“I’m really looking forward to Obama being able to undertake some more difficult policies,” Wolz said. “It’s his last four years, and I think he can be a little more bold.”

Speaking from Ann Arbor, LSA senior Dana Rollison said she was excited to hear Obama speak at length about sustainability issues. Obama’s largest environmental push — a carbon cap and trade measure that aimed to limit the output of greenhouse gasses — was stymied by a divided Senate in 2010.

“I know he can’t get very specific in an inauguration speech … but a lot of times he has fantastic speeches and the follow-through might get lost a little bit,” Rollison said. “If he follows through with what he said in his speech, I will be the happiest person in the world.”

At the pre-inaugural Michigan Congressional Open House on Sunday, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said student excitement for the president, contrary to popular belief, is still high. He also emphasized the importance of University students’ support of Obama’s re-election.

Levin said Obama’s role in keeping the student loan interest rate from doubling did not go unnoticed by the president’s college-aged supporters.

Daily News Editor Peter Shahin contributed reporting from Ann Arbor.

Follow Alicia Adamczyk on Twitter at @aliciaadamczyk