Aug. 29, 2008 — From 8 p.m. to nearly midnight Thursday evening, 90,000 people converged upon Invesco field in Denver to watch Barack Obama accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States.
Some 1,600 miles away, a much smaller but equally passionate group of University of Virginia students gathered in the Newcomb Hall Game Room to watch and cheer the historic event.
The gathering in the Game Room, co-sponsored by the University Democrats and Hoos for Obama, grew throughout the night, both in number and excitement. Political discussion dominated as Stevie Wonder performed and former Vice President Al Gore spoke, followed by a surprise speech by vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden.
"A big speaker like Obama, who has the power to move people both with his message, and his poise and confidence, has a special way of drawing a lot of people," said Rikesh Nana, who hung posters advertising the event. "Hopefully a lot of people will come, and a lot of people will be moved to vote for Obama."
By 10 p.m., as Obama prepared to take the stage, the room quieted. The crowd, once equal parts game-players and Obama supporters, became fixated on the TV, and ping pong and pool tables became overflow seating. As Obama strode onto the stage, the cheers in Charlottesville lasted nearly as long as they did in Denver.
For 45 minutes, the group watched and participated in Obama's speech, laughing at his jokes and cheering his promises for a better America. Obama's jab at John McCain's voting record — "What does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time?" — drew perhaps the largest reaction from the U.Va. viewers, with equal parts laughter and applause filling the room.
When Obama hailed the young voters who are a major part of his support base, the students responded in kind, cheering each other and their candidate.
Hoos for Obama and the University Democrats have already taken part in voter registration efforts.
"We were at the activities fair, mostly registering people to vote — not necessarily for Obama, but just in general, giving people absentee applications, and changing their place to vote to Charlottesville," Nana said.
When the speech finished, the group gave Obama a huge ovation; there were catcalls and high-fives, as if a good friend or fraternity brother had just given a rousing speech.
Sarah Buckley, president of the University Democrats, was thrilled by the turnout.
"I thought our event went incredibly well — we packed the room full of people who have not previously been involved with politics or with UDems," she said. "The speech was truly inspirational, and not just because of how Senator Obama manages to say things, but because of the specific policy solutions he proposed, backed by the passion he feels for making them happen."
Lydia Lovig, a second-year transfer student, said she was also inspired to see such a large turnout in "a traditionally red state, and a traditionally red University."
"I think it was fantastic," she said. "It's hard to get a hundred people out to any political event, and it's pretty inspiring to see people rally around such an optimistic candidate."
For Hoos for Obama and the University Democrats, the semester's work is just beginning. Before Obama's speech, Buckley called for supporters to sign up to go door-to-door to help register more people to vote, again without question of their political affiliation.
"We've been helping rock the vote, getting people registered and getting people informed," Nana said.
Though the process is long, Buckley said she relishes the opportunity the election presents.
"It is wonderful to be able to engage with my fellow students on the issues we all care about so much, whether it's at dinner at the Pav after a UDems meeting or at a debate with the College Republicans," she said. "I have learned so much by being able to listen to a diverse group of opinions.
"A lot of people say that young people are disaffected and apathetic to government and politics, but my experience here has shown me a generation of citizens who are ready and willing to go out into the world and make a difference for the issues we care most about."
-- David Pierce