Students at Barack Obama Elementary Celebrate

Officials in the predominantly minority school was renamed shortly after the election

Some stood and recited the oath along with the new president. Others shouted "Amen" at the end of the invocation. In school gyms, libraries and auditoriums around the country, schoolchildren cheered and waved American flags Tuesday, participating in the historic inauguration of the nation's 44th president.

Perhaps no school in the country celebrated with more enthusiasm than the hundreds of students at the newly renamed Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead, Long Island.

"I was just speechless. I don't even have the words to explain the feelings," said Principal Jean Bligen, who won tickets to the inaugural in a lottery, but decided the only place she wanted to be Tuesday was with her students. "It was remarkable. Absolutely remarkable."

Officials in the predominantly minority school district voted soon after Election Day to rename one of their facilities in honor of the Illinois Democrat. All 460 students sported navy blue sweat shirts emblazoned with "Barack Obama Elementary School -- Yes We Can" on their chests.

The school is about a mile from Hofstra University, where Obama and Sen. John McCain took part in the final presidential debate of the campaign. Students who followed the debates later suggested that their school be named for the new president, school officials said.

"I think that they renamed the school because they believe that Barack Obama was a great leader to many people such as myself," said fifth-grader Esta Thomas, 10, before the ceremony. "Because each of us in our school also want to grow up to be president one day."

Jalani Johnson, 10, also a fifth-grader, joined his classmates in cheering wildly moments after Obama was sworn into office. "I felt when he became president, I accomplished something really great."

The enthusiasm appeared contagious from coast to coast.

"You go back to Martin Luther King, and this is the dream come true," said Juana Martinez, 17, a senior who watched the inauguration with 2,700 other students at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., a predominantly black and Hispanic city south of Los Angeles.

The school made the inauguration a weeklong educational topic, with English, history and mathematics classes studying previous inaugurations and speeches, said Principal Joy Bramlette, who wore an Obama T-shirt.

"Barack Obama is every man's story for our kids," she said. "He was raised without a father and by his grandparents, like many of our kids."

Students from William S. Hackett Middle School in Albany, N.Y., waved small American flags and cheered as they watched Obama's speech, and some shouted "Amen" at the end of Pastor Rick Warren's invocation.

"I think it's really cool that he's president because he gets to stop the Iraq war, which has been going on for so long and he can bring the troops home," said sixth-grader Maritza Morris, 11. "There hasn't been another African-American spokesman like him since Martin Luther King Jr."

More than a half century after President Eisenhower nationalized Arkansas state troopers and sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce integration at Little Rock Central High School, more than 200 students watched the inauguration at the high school's auditorium, and classrooms throughout the school had televisions tuned to the ceremony.

"When you think that 50 years ago, African-Americans couldn't come in to the school, couldn't get the same education as Caucasians and now the leader of the free world is African-American," said Afshar Sanati, the school's student body president, who is Iranian-American. "That's just kind of awe-inspiring."

Back at Obama Elementary School, fourth-grade teacher Sharon Edmonston's eyes were still crimson from crying as the new president gave his inaugural address.

"I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an African-American president," she said. "It brought me back to being about 7 years old and I remember watching the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King and learning what that was all about. So as I was watching President Barack Obama being sworn in, it's mind boggling to me. I still can't wrap my brain around it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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