Catawba students find pride, hope on inauguration day

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
When Alex Hartsell was a little boy, his parents told him he could be anything he wanted when he grew up.
And he believed them.
It didn’t matter that he was African-American. What mattered, he said, was that he made up his mind what he wanted to do and put forth the work and effort to accomplish it.
Today, Hartsell, of Columbia, S.C., is a communications major at Catawba College. While Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States was historic, Hartsell said he always believed it was possible.
“In this time, anything’s possible,” he said. “The only difference is his skin. He’s human, he’s smart and he’s qualified for the job.”
It was more difficult for his grandfather to believe that an African-American could be elected.
Hartsell recalled seeing tears well up in 78-year-old George W. Hartsell’s eyes when they were watching Obama speak during television coverage of last year’s presidential election. “It was just a warm feeling for me to see him live to see that,” he said.
Life had not always been kind to his grandfather. Growing up in the deep South, George W. Hartsell heard stories about his own grandfather being shot in the head by a white man.
George Hartsell’s parents died when he was young, his grandson said, and he worked hard to support his younger brothers and sisters.
There was great prejudice in America then. The races were segregated, and African-Americans weren’t given the same rights and privileges as white people.
Alex Hartsell said there were times when his grandfather despised white people because of his own personal experiences with prejudice. Studying the Bible has helped him to deal with his scars, his grandson said, and seeing Obama sworn in as president has given him hope.
For Alex, Tuesday’s inauguration was a historic and important day. “It’s time for change,” he said, “and we’re just wanting to see what he does in office. He has my support. I’m with him all the way.”
Hartsell, a junior at Catawba, was among about 150 students who gathered in the Cannon Student Center to watch the inauguration. The Department of History and Politics arranged for a widescreen television in the Leonard Lounge.
Alex Copeland, a senior history major from Clinton, S.C., said he was overjoyed by the inauguration. “This is historic,” he said. “This is a momentous moment in our country’s history.
“It’s a great achievement, and I think it shows how far our nation has come.”
When asked if he expects great things from Obama, Copeland said he didn’t think answering that would be fair to the new president.
“I hope for good things,” he said. “The one thing I’ve learned from the presidents is expectations will not always be met, but hope is a great thing.
“I believe Obama is a good man that we can hope for good things from.”
Claire Robinson, a freshman from Houston, Texas, could hardly contain her excitement.
“This is the first presidential election I’ve participated in, and this is the first inauguration I’ve watched. It’s like being part of history.”
Robinson, who plans to major in theater ó “probably” ó said she expects major changes in foreign policy under Obama’s presidency. While the Bush administration seemed to focus on taking more power, she said, Obama seems to favor more equal and better relationships with other countries.
Her other expectations include more equitable and fairer economic policies. “I hope the next four years goes great,” she said.
Nathan Wrights, a senior sociology major from China Grove, didn’t know the inauguration was going to be shown in the Cannon Student Center until he walked by and saw it, deciding to watch the historic event.
As for Obama’s presidency, “I think he can bring a lot of promising things,” he said. “He is about change.”
Wrights, who hopes to go into nonprofit management after graduation, described the new president as a charismatic leader, “which makes it easy for people to relate to him.”
“He works a lot with social issues,” he said, “and will try his best to bring our country to where it needs to be socially, economically and environmentally.”
Wrights said he is hopeful about the country’s future and hopes the next four years under Obama’s leadership ó possibly eight ó will be great years “with a positive economy instead of a recession.”
Tony Mullins, a junior theater major from Charlotte, said he was excited about the inauguration. “I think it’s a promise of what can be,” he said.
As a fellow African-American, Mullins said he is proud of Obama and what he has meant to the race. “I think of all the struggles we’ve had …”
A member of the campus Diversity Club, he is working on a play based on the 1957 Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School who were initially prevented from entering the segregated school by then-Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus.
It was the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower that got them into the school. The Little Rock Crisis is considered to be one of the most important events in the Civil Rights Movement.
Mullins will play the role of Ernest Green, one of the nine students, and is helping to direct the Feb. 19-21 production.
Overall, the mood in the Student Center was celebratory as Vice President Joe Biden and Obama took their respective oaths of office.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.