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A Great Day to be an American

This morning, in the wake of the historic election of Barack Obama, I called a special all-school meeting in Bradley Hall. Below are the remarks I shared with all students and faculty/staff.

I would never call the school together simply to celebrate or acknowledge a political event. Today is not about Democrats and Republicans; it is much larger than that. Jeff Jacoby, who spoke here at Beaver two years ago, is a very conservative Republican columnist for the Boston Globe. This morning Jacoby wrote, “As a politician and policy maker Obama distresses me.” But, he continued, “…Obama’s rise makes me proud of my country.”

Last night we elected our first African-American president.

As I always do on election night, I sat in front of the television with my “electoral score card” and the math made it very clear early on that Obama would be elected easily. But when the networks projected his victory, I was physically stunned, rendered silent.

Thankfully there is no place for cynics in this election. No other Western nation has ever elected a person of color as its leader. But now we have. I think of so many images over this election cycle, but two come to mind this morning. At the Democratic Convention just after Obama’s nomination had become official, Representative John Lewis said to a journalist, “If you don’t think change is possible, stand in my shoes.” And last night we saw the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Grant Park, tears streaming down his face.

And this is no time for smug North Easterners and Californians to gloat. Obama won because of states like Indiana, Virginia, Florida, Nevada and Ohio – and without Iowa he may never have been nominated.

I am no historian, but I feel that this is the most important election since the election of George Washington in 1779. In that year, the world was watching as a new nation cobbled together a government and elected its leader. Two hundred and thirty years later, Barack Obama will take the oath of office at the Capitol on steps built by slaves. Again today, the world is watching.

Yesterday I spoke with some admission visitors – Americans living in Mexico City. They shared with me how excited Mexico has been about this election. This morning London’s Daily Express headline is “A New World Dawns.”

Much is expected of America, and much of the world wants America to succeed. Given our standing in the world, we are often criticized, at times justifiably. President-Elect Obama has an enormous job ahead of him. We do not yet know if he will be a great president, but we all hope and pray he will be. I believe he will be.

But we do know that yesterday American lived up to its ideals.

We do know that today is a great day to be an American.

We do know that today we can be justly proud of our country.

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