It was through tears, screams and complete elation that Kinesiology sophomore Carolyn McCloud processed the realization that the nation elected a black president.
Speechless, she dropped to her knees in the midst of hundreds of students gathered on the Diag just after 11 p.m. last night, and prayed to God, grateful that Barack Obama was elected the next president of the United States.
While she knelt, students erupted in deafening chants of “Yes we did!” and “Obama!” which soared in volume over chaotic cheers, screams and tears.
Shortly after Obama gave his acceptance speech near midnight, a band of percussionists, a saxophonist and a tag-a-long didgeridoo player headed to the Diag playing a jazz version of the National Anthem. The hundreds already gathered at the center of campus circled the band.
Students continued to pour into the Diag from all directions, a few waving large American Flags. A handful of University police monitored the crowd, including one car parked on a path between the Diag and West Hall. The crowd remained peaceful, yet rowdy as police watched.
A group of students formed a drumline on the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, while hundreds of students alternated chants of “Go-bama!” and “Yes we can!” to the beat.
After receiving text messages, a group of students encouraged those gathered to go to the streets. Students were asking each other for a destination but no one seemed to know — or care where the crowd was heading. Some headed to Michigan Stadium, others to the intersection of State Street and Liberty Street.
One group marched to the steps of the Michigan Union, clogging State Street and chanting, “It’s great to see an Obama victory.” A portion of the crowd walked along toward the home of University President Mary Sue Coleman and called for her to make a speech. She never emerged and the group soon moved eastward on South University Avenue.
The crowds and celebrations, though numerous and disparate, only grew through the evening as national results came in.
As of 4 a.m., Obama had won 338 electoral votes, well above the 270 needed to secure the presidency. Republican nominee John McCain clinched 163 votes.
In the crucial fight for swing states, Obama nearly swept Republican nominee McCain, though not by substantial margins in individual states. Obama took Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. As of 4 a.m., North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana were too close to call.
Students cheered well into the early morning hours, celebrating the Democratic candidate’s decisive victory.
“I feel this is the greatest moment of our lives,” said LSA sophomore Rose Balzer. “There’s no doubt about that.”
While students rejoiced in the streets, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and choruses of “The Victors,” results trickled in from Ann Arbor precincts, showing a 14-percent increase from the number of people who cast ballots at student dominated polling places of 2004.
Eighty-three percent of voters at 14 student-heavy Ann Arbor precincts supported Obama.
Obama, whose victory in the Electoral College entered landslide territory, began the race two years ago as the underdog. He had to defeat the favored Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. In doing so, he defied historical precedent to become the first black man to earn a major party’s nod.
The Democratic nominee once again defied political paradigm in his campaign strategy. He energized an entire generation of young Americans with his message of hope and change.
During his acceptance speech last night, given before a crowd of more than 240,000, Obama implored Americans to support him as he carries out his progressive platform.
“I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand,” he said.
Obama’s platform, which centers on tax breaks for middle-income families, health care policy reforms, withdrawal from Iraq and developing alternative energy technology, has resonated overwhelmingly with young voters.
About two-thirds of voters under the age of 30 supported Obama, representing 17 percent of the national electorate.
This group of young, primarily first-time voters, who formed their political opinions under a president with some of the worst approval ratings in the history of approval ratings, voted for the young first-term senator whose eloquent rhetoric promised them a change from the only administration they’d known since middle school.
Many of these people not only voted for him, but they dedicated themselves to getting him elected.
Membership in the University’s chapter of College Democrats quadrupled in size when the school year began. At the group’s first mass meeting, they turned away more than 100 people because they couldn’t fit the 300 people wanted to help elect Obama in one room.
Collectively, the group committed tens of thousands of man-hours to canvassing and phone-banking for the candidate. More than 30 College Democrats members considered the mission a full-time job.
In his acceptance speech, Obama thanked them for their efforts.
“It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep,” he said of those who worked for his campaign.
College-aged supporters across the nation contributed to the largest volunteer base of any political campaign. The Obama campaign also used technology like social networking to build a registration, outreach and turnout machine the likes of which no democracy has ever seen. These grassroots efforts mobilized entire blocs of first-time voters.
The 18- to 24-year-old demographic has never played such an influential role in the election of a president. Historically, young voters haven’t shown up to the polls.
Voter turnout among those aged 18-24 has trailed that of voters aged 25 years and older by about 20 percent for the past 30 years, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
But to combat this group’s infamous apathy, Obama’s campaign, armed with record-shattering fundraising totals, poured money into courting the youth vote. His campaign produced and distributed youth-specific literature, which listed his pledges to make college more affordable and accessible. He used text messaging and viral videos to get his message out to a group of people whose lives revolve around blogging, instant messaging and social networking.
On a campus scattered with Obama campaign literature and plastered with the president-elect’s likeness, students celebrated throughout the streets of Ann Arbor in droves. Their chants and yells could be heard for hours after the major news networks called the race for Obama.
Before flooding the streets, students gathered at campus bars and residence hall lounges to watch results trickle in.
Hours before television and Internet news outlets declared Obama the winner, College Democrats members were already celebrating an expected victory.
As CNN projected Ohio would go to Obama just after 9 p.m., the group of 50 people cheered raucously.
“Ohio kind of seals the deal,” said Danny Abosch, a School of Music, Theatre and Dance sophomore and a member of the group’s executive board. “Looking at the 2000 and 2004 elections, Ohio has really been the key state. It’s really amazing.”
Just before 11 p.m., the election-watching crowds at Good Time Charley’s braced themselves for the closing of polls in California. They began counting down from ten. As they cried one, the television screens displayed the CNN projection, “Barack Obama elected president.”
As students embraced and took photos of the screen, they lined up at the bar to order blue-colored “Obama shots.” Others simply stared at the screen, their eyes transfixed and welling with tears.
— Daily Staff Reporters Jillian Berman, Kelly Fraser, Charles Gregg-Geist, Andrew Grossman, Elaine LaFay, Katherine Mitchell, Nate Sandals, Caitlin Schneider, Kyle Swanson and Sara Lynne Thelen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.