November 5, 2008 — Chants of "O-BA-MA!, O-BA-MA!" from more than 200 University of Virginia students filled Newcomb Hall at 11 p.m. as CBS News coverage — projected on a 20-foot-tall screen — announced that Barack Obama had won the 270 electoral votes he needed to become the next president of the United States.
Nearly everyone jumped to their feet, spontaneously screaming, dancing, hugging and cheering. Some shed tears of joy while others tried, sometimes in vain, to verbalize feelings: "Incredible!" "Oh my God!" "It's surreal." "I'm so shocked." "I'm just ecstatic!" "I can't wait!"
Fallen faces revealed the small contingent of McCain supporters. Some had half-heartedly booed earlier as each update of Obama winning a state's electoral votes brought thunderous applause from the great majority of the crowd that gathered for the election-watching event, sponsored by the University Programs Council, Student Council, the College Republicans and the University Democrats.
Within moments of CBS calling the election for Obama, the whole room joined arms and swayed while singing the "Good Ol' Song." Faces shimmered with tears and smiles.
Event organizer Bukky Awosogba, a third-year student from New Jersey whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, reflected on what it meant to her that roughly 350 students had come out for at least part of the "Election Night Extravaganza" rather than watching results in dorm rooms, bars or restaurants.
"Doing it here — at Newcomb Hall, at the center of campus, in the University of Virginia's student activity building, with this demographic — is momentous and symbolic," she said.
Organizing an Election Night event for the U.Va. community had been her top priority when she applied to become director of current events for the University Programs Council, she said.
"I remember past elections, but this one is just mind-blowing," she added.
Several African-American students — all of whom had just cast their first presidential votes — reflected on what Obama's victory meant to them.
"From where we were to the White House — that's a big step in a short amount of time," said Mylrick Lapointe, a fourth-year drama major from Miami. "And it was a short amount of time — if you look at it realistically. It's a big deal."
"It's a landscape win, in that so much of the country is behind him and ready to support him as the new president and the fact that he is an African-American male," said Jason Anderson, a fourth-year fine arts major from New Jersey. "I'm just happy to see someone with my face, my complexion, in that office."
"Everything I'm feeling is awesome," added Etienne Holder, a fourth-year anthropology major. "Words can't explain how excited I am right now."
"I'm really happy that Obama got Virginia," said Andrea Campbell, a fourth-year government major from Virginia, who was proud of the big turnout from her age group. "I'm surprised it wasn't closer, but I'm not surprised that Obama won. I had faith in our nation that we'd make the right decision, and I think that we did."
Jeannette Williams, a fourth-year student double-majoring in American and Asian studies, had not shared Campbell's optimism, even though Obama had held a lead in the polls for several weeks. In the past two elections, the media had projected a Democratic victory on Election Night, "and we go to bed and wake up and it's turned into a nightmare," she said.
"America has a knack for saying one thing and doing another. I'm surprised it actually followed through on what it said."
More than one foreign student shared Williams' pre-election pessimism.
"I would have sworn that America's not ready for this change. Completely unexpected," said Hariyat Andargachew, a third-year student from Ethiopia. "My voice is gone I'm so excited."
Fourth-year biology major Tonuka Syeda, who is Canadian, shared her perspective. "America surprised me in a good way," she said. "I'm going to stay in America for at least the next four years."
British citizen and U.S. permanent resident Yasminca Wilson said the election of Obama will push her to become an American citizen, and a McCain victory would have done the opposite.
Most students recognized that CBS News anchor Katie Couric, featured on the big projection screen in the middle of the room, was a fellow Wahoo. But other U.Va. connections in the election coverage — namely, U.Va. alumni Brit Hume and Fred Barnes at Fox News — were probably lost on many of the students, said Bruce Vlk, deputy director of programs for the Center for Politics.
The three TVs in the room were tuned to Fox News, CBS and MSNBC. A technical glitch derailed plans for one of the three TVs to feature the BBC's coverage, co-hosted by Center for Politics director Larry Sabato, event organizer and Student Council member Patrick Dorsey explained.
Now comes the hard part: governing.
"I can't wait to see the change that's going to happen in the country in the next four years, and how different it's going to be," Anderson said. "He was an underdog all along from the beginning of the primaries, and his winning is proof that every dream is possible."