Hudson teens are on hand for history in ChicagoA “political Woodstock.” That’s the way Hudson High School senior Hannah Kalmon described the experience of being among the quarter of a million people in Chicago’s Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
A “political Woodstock.”
That’s the way Hudson High School senior Hannah Kalmon described the experience of being among the quarter of a million people in Chicago’s Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
Kalmon and another senior, Kristine Zappa, made the decision to go to Chicago Monday night and boarded a bus at 10:30 p.m. in Minneapolis for the all-night trip to Chicago. They were met at the bus station by David Sjoberg, a 2008 graduate of Hudson High School who attends Columbia College in Chicago just a few blocks from the park.
With another HHS graduate and Columbia student, Kelsey Hansen, the four got to Grant Park around 1 p.m. Election Day. They were not in the ticketed area of the park so they knew they would not be able to see Obama, but they would be able to hear him.
The group brought a lifesize cut-out of Obama with them, and it brought them lots of attention. “I think close to 200 people came up to us and wanted their picture taken with it,” said Kalmon. The crowd also included journalists from around the world, and the students were interviewed by British, French and Spanish news outlets as well as by MSNBC. Their picture also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Kalmon said she had never been in a crowd like the one that night and probably never will be again.
“The excitement and energy was amazing and there were people from every race and color you can imagine. There were all ages — older people and people with kids and babies. And there were all these people with disabilities, in wheelchairs or with other handicaps. The guy standing next to us had Down Syndrome, but there was this incredible feeling that everyone understood each other.”
The excitement grew as the first returns started to come in and as the projections for states won were announced. The coverage by CNN appeared on large screens throughout the park. There was a countdown in the crowd as 10 p.m. approached and the election was called for Obama.
“When they called him ‘President-elect Barack Obama’ the crowd went crazy,” recalled Kalmon. “Everybody started crying. You were hugging strangers but nobody there was a stranger that night. The call went from ‘yes we can’ to ‘yes we did!’”
Kalmon said the crowd was very loud and kept cheering and celebrating right up to the time Obama took the stage and began to speak.
“Everybody fell silent and listened. He wasn’t at all boastful about the win. He just started to talk about what had happened and what it meant. We began to realize what we were a part of history in the making. You could feel that everything had changed.”
The celebration continued long after Obama finished speaking and left the stage. Kalmon’s group walked the five blocks through the crowd to Sjoberg’s dorm and listened to the party continue outside most of the night.
Kalmon also had praise for Sen. John McCain’s concession speech and said the crowd was respectful. “We all applauded him. He said what needed to be said and did a really good job.”
Because she is 17, Kalmon wasn’t able to vote in this election, but she volunteered for the campaign and urged her peers who were of age to get out and vote. She was also part of “Students for Obama” on the social network Facebook. She said she supported him because she believes “he hears young voices and values the opinions of young people as much as anyone.”
Kalmon watched Obama’s first press conference earlier this week and remains impressed. “He’s a serious guy and very presidential. You felt it that night and could see it in the conference. But he can laugh at himself too. He just has that connection with people that makes him special.”
After graduation, Kalmon will attend college and is considering a degree in political science or public policy. She has been inspired by this election experience.
“This is a life-changing, something I don’t think any of us will ever forget. There’s something new going on, and people just seem to know that things will be different. There’s a lot of work ahead to make things better and I think we’re ready to get started.”
Kalmon is the daughter of John and Martha Kalmon of Hudson.