Never was GW’s proximity to the White House more evident than at the moment hundreds of students left Kogan Plaza and sprinted down Pennsylvania Avenue to President-elect Barack Obama’s future home.
Chanting “Yes we did!” “USA!” and “O-ba-ma!” they swarmed the gates with unrestrained energy at about 11:30 p.m., shortly after major networks called the election for the Illinois Democrat. As the nation’s eyes turned to D.C., the GW students were in full force, hugging one other, crowd-surfing, singing and screaming in front of television cameras.
“This is why I went to GW, so I could be here for this,” said freshman Christelle Saintis.
The crowd consisted almost entirely of GW students until about 40 minutes later, when Georgetown and American students joined D.C. residents of all ages on Pennsylvania Avenue. Holding American flags and Obama banners, the crowd turned toward the White House and sang, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey. Goodbye.”
“I just want to tell Bush and Republicans that young people are here, we care and we just picked the new president,” said Alisha Bhagat, a sophomore.
As dozens of cars drove by honking, the celebration on Pennsylvania Avenue grew consistently larger around 1 a.m. New arrivals high-fived those leaving the scene, while a group of girls gave out “Hugs for Obama” to anyone in sight.
“It’s the most historic day so far in our lifetime,” senior Lauren Winsten said. “I’m going to remember this forever.”
Rainfall did not dampen the crowd’s spirits, even as the rain became progressively heavier.
“It’s the first time people have voted for somebody instead of against somebody,” said junior Benjamin Ludke. “It’s a new revolution of young voters coming out trying to get somebody elected that they want. I can’t describe it.”
The Park Police, Secret Service and Metropolitan Police Department also had a strong presence, with flashing blue and red lights providing a backdrop to the crowds on Pennsylvania. The Park Police formed a line in front of the White House to prevent any of the revelers from getting too close, but they did not interfere in the celebration.
“Enjoy it, have fun, don’t break anything,” one officer said.
At about 1:15 a.m., a group of musicians from the University of Arts in Philadelphia began playing “When the Saints Go Marching in.”
“This is groundbreaking,” said saxophone player Matt Fisher. “We came from American. We were near D.C., it was natural to come to the White House.”
For many of those assembled, the night was not something they would soon forget.
“This is one of the greatest feelings of my life,” said D.C. resident Chris Drake. “I haven’t slept in 24 hours, but honestly, that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
“It’s really such a momentous turning point in our history and it says a lot about how far our country has come, how much progress we actually can make,” Law School student Navdeep Singh said.
Others commented that the election brought together a diverse group of people.
“I just think it’s awesome that the people decided for change. Not just black people, but white people, Latinos, Indians, Asians, everybody – young, old – everyone came out,” said Chekesha Rashad, a fifth-generation Washingtonian. “It’s been awesome, peaceful, no one fighting, everyone getting along. There’s nothing but love out here, love for America.”
By 2:30 a.m., the crowd began to disperse. Another large group later walked from the White House to the Capitol at about 5 a.m. n
Jennifer Tchinnosian, Bryan Han, Gabrielle Bluestone and Alex Byers contributed to this report.