Four years later, students dashed again down Pennsylvania Avenue and across 17th Street to revel in the reelection of President Barack Obama.
The anxious waiting game as Obama racked up electoral votes broke into a rowdy after-party in front of the White House – a GW and D.C. tradition.
News outlets announced an Obama win against Republican challenger Mitt Romney at about 11:15 p.m., after the president clinched Ohio. The news was the starting gun for the swarm of students to head four blocks east.
Horns honked and cheers of “four more years” and “U.S.A.” could be heard for blocks as the thick crowd piled to the edge of Lafayette Park.
Sophomore David Harvey said his joy was buoyed by a personal connection he felt with the president.
“My mother’s a single mother, and it’s great to have someone who knows what it’s like to be struggling to put food on the table,” he said. “It’s huge. It’s really big.”
A sea of stretched arms raised iPhones to snap photos and mark the moment GW students cherish: witnessing a presidential election in the nation’s capital. For about an hour, the area outside the White House beared more resemblance to a dorm room party than a tourist attraction.
Some poured champagne while others clutched beer cans and even pulled out joints. People scaled trees and waved American and LGBT pride flags – a liberal victory march in a blue city close to several left-leaning universities.
Freshman Tyler Varian said the view from atop a tree was one he’d never forget.
“When the opportunity to climb a tree in front of the White House on election night presents itself, you don’t pass it up,” he said.
The Secret Service erected temporary fences to keep the crowd at bay. At least one man was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department at 12:35 a.m. for fighting along the White House fence.
Before the White House surge, the College Republicans and College Democrats piled into ballrooms in the Marvin Center. Divided into viewing rooms based on political parties, many Obama backers couldn’t restrain their animation as more states closed their polls.
Junior Shiah Shahmohammadi, vice president of College Democrats, said the group – which traveled to campaign in Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia – had “a personal stake in the places we’ve invested our time and effort, sweat.”
“Once we win, I think this room is going to be pretty electric,” she said.
The mood was more laid-back at Tonic Restaurant, where students and professors from the Graduate School of Political Management mingled, and partisanship stayed at bay. Adults dressed in suits sipped cocktails at the first-floor bar and in front of third-floor televisions, where cable channels were lined up across the room. The corner TV showing Fox News drew few viewers throughout the night.
In the Marvin Center, Spencer Dixon, a junior and president of the CDs, marveled at the high turnout, which forced them to remove a blow-up wrestling pit that the group set up at the night’s outset.
At about 11:15 p.m., when Obama’s electoral count hit 262 – eight shy of securing the White House – Dixon spoke to the crowd. During his remarks, CNN broadcasted Romney’s victory in Missouri, which was met with boos.
“The news can’t all be good, people,” Dixon said. “Soon, it will be.”
Will Emmons, Asha Omelian and Adam Silverman contributed to this report.