At 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5, Yale exploded. For the second time.
It started at 211 Park St. A mass of about 100 students that surged towards Old Campus, chanting.
Students rushed out from all corners of campus, in a clear demonstration of their political leanings. (4 in 5 students polled by the News last week said they were voting for the Illinois Senator.)
They charged between Jonathan Edwards and Branford colleges and out into Old Campus to join hands and form a massive circle that stretched from Lanman-Wright Hall to Lawrance Hall, all the way across to Connecticut Hall. Students ran along the inside of the circle as they belted out the national anthem. As the final words sounded into the night, the crowd erupted in cheers, the circle broke and students charged toward the center.
There was kissing and hugging. Students were lifted on shoulders above the crowd, which had become roughly 700-strong.
It was a celebration: Barack Obama had been named president-elect.
8:30 a.m. Prelude to the countdown
Tuesday morning, though, Obama’s victory was but a dream for most Elis.
“Have you voted?” was the question of the day — except, that is, when it was, “Did you vote absentee?”
Students across campus sported “I voted today!” stickers. Several continued to canvass throughout the day.
“You have a midterm tomorrow, but today is the most important day in American history,” said a male student in an Obama T-shirt to a female student on her way to a review session. “Ipso facto, it’d be smarter to skip your review session and go vote for Obama.”
Professors, too, could sense the energy that permeated campus throughout the day.
“I feel like I’m living history,” said Akhil Amar, the Yale Law School professor who teaches the popular undergraduate course Constitutional Law. “This may very well be one of the most decisive shifts in presidential election tides in American history.”
Amar said he was rooting for an Obama win.
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler agreed, saying that he has never seen political interest at such a high. This year’s election, he said, reminds him of the similarly historic 1960 presidential election, which elected John F. Kennedy as the nation’s first Roman-Catholic president.
Economics professor Ray Fair has focused most his research on developing an algorithm to predict voting patterns. He said Tuesday afternoon that his equation had predicted an Obama win. If the economy is bad, he said, voters tend to vote against the incumbent party.
5 p.m. Obama 0, McCain 0
The Afro-American Cultural Center was buzzing with activity, as people crowded together to make phone calls to Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Obama posters peppered the walls and the snack table was in disarray. Pressed for space, students spilled out into the courtyard, sprawling out on the adjacent grass and concrete, phone lists in front of them and dialing fingers at the ready.
“It was electric,” said Ben Shaffer ’09, president of the Yale College Democrats.
Although Yalies made up the majority of the phone bankers, community members were also involved. A group of local ninth graders were mingling with the Yalies, phoning Iowans with enthusiasm. High school student Alex Tiktinsky, his smile framed by mushroom-cut brown hair, said his mother, an Obama supporter, had gotten him involved with the campaign. Inside, Tiktinsky’s friend Lucian Wang, dark hair falling over his eyes, peered through his glasses at a computer screen, tallying up call counts.
But the youngest volunteer by far was Noah Deboor, a chubby 9-year-old with gray eyes.
“I’m just making calls to make sure Obama wins,” he said. “I’ve been here for two hours and I’ve had three sodas!”
Had the sugar and excitement made him “hyper”? His eyes widened and he nodded. “Oh, yeah,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Starbucks, the lines were so long that Yale students began to grumble that the free coffee offered to voters was being served too slowly.
8:05 p.m. Obama 104, McCain 34
By the evening’s end, Yalies knew that the Constitution State had gone to Obama by as many as 35 percentage points.
At first, they were excited, but reserved; Obama was leading McCain by 99 points in the electoral college, but the states, pundits and students noted, had fallen in a predictable pattern, with traditionally blue states going to Obama and red states sticking with McCain.
“I want to see what Pennsylvania and Virginia do,” Shaffer said. “Once I know they’ve gone blue, then we’ll begin to celebrate.”
At a suite party in Silliman, Yale students shouted out the name of their home states, many grateful that traditionally red states could go to either candidate. Pacing around with a scorecard in hand and all the battleground states highlighted, partygoer Sam Gamer ’12 was optimistic that Obama would win.
“I’m on a political high!” he said. “I grew up with President George W. Bush, and I’m ready to move on.”
But Yale College Republicans President Matthew Klein ’09 felt other students’ enthusiasm was misplaced. He pointed out that at 8:30 p.m. McCain was leading the popular vote, and that it was still too close to call the race either way.
9:43 p.m. Obama 200, McCain 90
The “Drinkin’ with Lincoln” event at Bottega Lounge’s Keys to the City was packed with students of all ages by 9:30 p.m., though red wristbands were distributed only to those of drinking age. A glass partition divided the bar and non-bar areas, with TVs showing the returns as they came in. Ahough drinks were free — after being advertised with a price of $0.01 — Bottega stopped serving at 10 p.m. Students socialized more than they focused on the election.
Few cheered as the television stations called each state.
But blocks away, at the Selin Lounge in Timothy Dwight College, about 40 Party of the Left members celebrated a bit more raucously, drawing a map of the United States on a whiteboard along with each state’s number of electoral votes. As CNN called the states, PoL members colored them in to correspond with the outcomes, cheering when a state went blue and booing when it went red.
And at 9:43 — when Ohio was called for Obama — the room erupted in joy, Sanjeev Tewani ’11 said.
10:20 p.m. Obama 207, McCain 135
Amar, who was at home watching Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia speak on ABC, said Lewis could better articulate his feelings than he could.
Lewis was a leader of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“Obama is making real what [Martin Luther King Jr.] was talking about,” he said. “This is going to change America and change the world.”
And as the results poured in, so too did freshmen into the Vanderbilt suite of freshman counselor Will Wong ’09, who began to worry that he had never registered the party. Lone conservative student Maggie Traylor ’12 stayed on the line with a friend from home, hoping that McCain would be able to come back from his 72-point loss.
“He just got Texas,” Traylor said into the phone. “We have something here to work with!”
Her comments were met with affectionate head-shaking by the mostly liberal crowd.
11:00 p.m. Obama 284, McCain 146
McCain conceded. And Yale exploded.
Lifelong Republican Klein seemed barely upset by McCain’s loss.
“It could have turned out better,” Klein said. “It wasn’t a huge surprise, but y’know, just gotta move on, fight for another day.”
Rich Tao ’10, the president of the Yale College Council, thought differently. “F—ing amazing,” he wrote in an e-mail message accidentally sent to the entire undergraduate student body. (He later apologized for the mishap.)
On the Fox News home page, a banner appeared reading “President Obama,” bearing a profile shot of him holding a telephone to his ear. At the same time, MSNBC anchors called the election for Obama, 284 to 146 electoral points.
Barack Obama had become the first black president-elect of the United States.
Moments later, a crescendo of “Yes we can! Yes we can!” rose up from the crowd amassed on Old Campus.
But then they realized: “Yes we did! Yes we did!”
Elis continued to stream into the south end of Old Campus, whooping as some ripped off their shirts and others hugged one another. A band of brass instruments bellowed a song of victory.
“Best month ever!” shouted a shirtless man in a bright orange baseball cap.
Suddenly, an American flag appeared and someone launched into the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd fell silent, and then, one by one, began to join in.
They eventually dispersed. But then, a little after midnight, Obama gave his acceptance speech.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year, or even in one term,” he said. “But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”
And Yale exploded again.
Reporting was contributed by Taylor Lasley, Samuel Lynch, Chris Merriman, Lauren Motzkin, Harrison Korn, Kaitlin Paulson, Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, Rachel Wang, Vivian Yee and Esther Zuckerman.