More than 800 students filled the Student Activity Center on Nov. 6 to watch the election unfold. It was freshman Lilly Gomez’s first time voting, and she was celebrating it with friends at the “Decision 2012: Watch it Happen” watch party hosted by 17 different minority-based organizations. Gomez fought off a cold all day long but refused to let being under the weather keep her at home.
The watch party began with the ABC coverage of the election playing silently on two big screens in the background — the sound is replaced by popular music for students dance along to. When it was announced that Obama had won New Hampshire, the crowd danced on and coupled their moves with cheers.
The atmosphere was happy-go-lucky, and the room was filled with music, laughs and the occasional “four more years” chant. It was announced that Romney had won Arizona and the crowd hushed as the Electoral College numbers displayed: Romney 169, Obama 157. The music stopped and, for the most part, everyone took their seats. Gomez says either nerves or her cold had her stomach in knots, and a friend offered her a water bottle. She was still and just watching the screens, biting her nails and fidgeting in her seat hoping she cast her first ever ballot for the winning man.
The room is still buzzing with chatter, but the music has been completely silenced as the ABC commentary echoed over the student voices. The crowd, now spilling out of the ballroom, is unsettlingly still.
We heard Obama had won Wisconsin, bringing his total to 238 to Romney’s 191. You could almost feel the tension leave the room, and the crowd visibly begins to breathe easier. People cheered again and stirred in their seats, but most never sat back down after jumping up following the announcement.
Around 10:15 p.m. we hear Obama has won Ohio and the cheers were enough to make your ears ring. Gomez’s queasy stomach and nail biting were replaced with clapping and screaming. Moments later the screens flashed the announcement that Barack Obama had been re-elected. Everyone left their seat, and as loud as the music rang out, it still wasn’t enough to overpower the victory shouts. Gomez practically jumped into a friend’s arms screaming and jumping. The cheers give way to a thundering “Obama” chants, and Lilly was all smiles. She took a moment to look at the screen with her mouth covered then high-fived complete strangers and embraced her neighbors once again before posing for a picture with her “Obama 2012” poster. “YES!” she shouted. She voted in her first presidential election, and her man won it all.
She says she thinks four more years with Pres. Obama symbolizes that America is actually changing. “This means that the minority is increasing, and things are changing in politics and in this country, and that is so important to me," she says. “I saw a lot of students vote, and I see the hundreds of people here tonight with me. I’m so happy to know that the youth is speaking up, and we’re being heard.”
Gomez says this experience was only made better by spending it with her friends and people who literally celebrated the victory as they would a football game — with cheers and chants, with pride and passion.
“I’ll be honest,” she says. “Had Obama lost, I would have cried and it would have taken an atmosphere like this to help me pull it together because I know I had a lot riding on this election.”
Recent UT alumna Amanda Sargent says she too had a lot riding on another term for Obama, citing student loans as her main issue of interest.
“I really felt like the next 34 years of my life depended on this election simply because of the student loans that I’m going to have to start paying come February,” she says. "Some were focusing on abortion, some marriage equality, but for me, I needed an action plan to pay for my education.”
Sargent made her way back to campus for the watch party that night because she wanted the feeling she had when she celebrated her first time voting in 2008, she says.
“This was an experience that I’m glad to be a part of yet again being that my first election was my freshmen year where similar energy was felt, and I’m glad to have that replicated tonight; there’s nothing like it," Sargent says.
Among the hosting organizations for the election watch party were: African Students Association, Underrepresented Students Agency, Women's Resource Agency and Queer Students Alliance.