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Election Night 2008

I was on vacation with my sister in Paris...

by Donna Schill

We asked writers from Iowa and beyond to share their stories of where they were, what they saw, and what they felt on November 4, 2008. Links to more stories are below.

I was on vacation with my sister in Paris before the election, with a return ticket for November 1 so I could cast my vote for the very first time.

As excited as I was about the election, I wasn’t so excited to be an American while in Paris. I knew that we had lost the good graces of the rest of the world years ago, and for good reason.

Soon we noticed the buzz about the election throughout Paris. My sister and I called home everyday to hear about who was favored to win. As avid Obama fans, we experienced much nervousness as the projections wavered from one party to the other. The funny thing was, everyone in Paris was following the election as closely as we were. Turning on the radio in the morning, we could decipher bits of discussion about Obama and McCain. Over lunch at an outdoor café, when people at neighboring tables noticed we were American, they showered us with questions, wondering if we thought Obama could win, if race would affect the election, and who we were voting for. My sister and I realized that all of Paris were crossing their fingers for America.

On my flight home, the election was still on my mind. As a first time voter, I found myself contemplating what I wanted for my country. America was supposed to be a place that held freedom above all else, rewarding originality and intelligence so that every individual was responsible for the outcome of her own life. Over the years America had sadly declined, losing all of the credibility that its fairness and good-will once earned it. Its shining qualities had become faint glimmers in a sea of politics and ulterior motives.

What I realized with some surprise was that I wanted the exact same things that Americans had wanted over 200 years ago when the Declaration of Independence was written. From the first days I heard the words spoken, the right to “Life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” rang true with a rare innocence that even a child could feel.

The night of November 4th, I was sitting in a packed room of loud friends who were cracking jokes about the election as newscasters predicted the outcome in each state. The room fell quiet as soon as Obama spoke. His words spoke directly to me as he opened, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer.” He did not revel in his victory, but focused on the challenges ahead with directness and hope. He openly recognized that “the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime.” The thought seemed mutual in the silence as we listened: We have finally found a president with dignity. Obama spoke with the eloquence of the best of men who have come out of this nation.

Obama winning the election is proof to me that our country still has its greatness. It was a reminder that quality of character  determines how far you get in life, not where you came from. It was an unbelievably heartening feeling to hear him say, “A government of the people, for the people, and by the people has not perished.” He spoke to the people when he said, “This is your victory.

"I drove to Grant Park, Chicago, on Nov. 4 ..." by Mo Ellis

"I was born in 1968..." by Catarina Titus

"I was so nervous I could barely walk straight..." by Neil Fauerso

"I was where many were—at home..." by Thomas Dean

"My account is a simple one..." by Tracy Chipman

"I did NOTHING on election night..." by Shane Brown

"Anxiety compelled me to sublimate: I started making chocolate brownies..." by Lillian Darr

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