Campus & Community

At Harvard Law School, and beyond

5 min read

One second and one first

One hundred and twenty seven years later, the Harvard Law School can claim it has another alumnus in the White House. On Nov. 4, Barack Obama became the second Law School grad to ascend to the nation’s highest office. He joins Rutherford B. Hayes, the country’s nineteenth president, who graduated from the School in 1845 and was elected president in 1876. The president-elect received his degree in 1991. Obama’s election, however, does mark a first for the School: His wife Michelle Obama will be the first First Lady with a Harvard Law degree. She graduated in 1988.

‘Tree on TV’

Members of the Black Law Students Association gathered in Pound Hall to watch the election coverage and waited eagerly to catch a glimpse of their inspiring leader on two large screens. But they weren’t looking for Obama, they wanted to see their teacher “Tree,” or, as the students said they more commonly like to refer to him, “Professor Ogletree.” The Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, who also advises the group, was on MSNBC’s election broadcast at 8:30 p.m. Later, he appeared on a special hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The buzz is that Ogletree, known widely as a mentor to Obama, is a likely candidate for a role in the new administration.

Best impromptu song

Perhaps the most moving moment of the pandemonium that engulfed Harvard Yard and much of Harvard Square once Barack Obama had secured the presidency took place at a familiar gathering spot for revelers. Like they’ve done to celebrate World Series victories for the Boston Red Sox, hundreds of students converged in the “Pit,” the sunken mini amphitheater of brick next to the Harvard MBTA stop. In an impressive a cappella, the young crowd spontaneously broke in to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some students unfurled their own small flags, and many turned and faced the large Stars and Stripes flying atop the adjacent building as they sang.

Best screech of the night

… went not to an Obama fan, surprisingly, but a zealous supporter of a one-time comedian, Saturday Night Live cast member and current radio talk show host. The yell was made by a young student at Kirkland House who emitted a raucous cry of “Franken!” as the numbers on the TV screen in the grille room indicated the satirist and author was then leading his Republican rival Norm Coleman in Minnesota for a seat in the United States Senate. The student’s excitement was no doubt short-lived. The too-close-to-call race was given over the next day to an automatic statewide recount that likely won’t yield a winner until sometime in December.

Even in Texas

Lauren Brants ’09, a history and literature major and Kirkland House resident, was watching the election coverage on a large TV — and studying for a folklore and mythology midterm between commercial breaks — in the Kirkland House grille. Brants, who hails from Fort Worth, Texas, said she sent her absentee ballot for Obama express mail to cancel out her mother’s McCain vote. “There are Democrats in Texas. You can be a Democrat and a liberal from Texas. I think the voting shows that,” she said. Despite looking like Texas would swing toward McCain, Brants was optimistic. “I felt so hopeless four years ago and now, it’s very hopeful.”

Not everyone for Obama

Israeli couple Haim and Chemda Machluf made a night of the celebration at the Law School. With their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Gilad, in tow, they attended the bipartisan party sponsored by the Dean of Students Office at Harkness Commons. The party offered attendees free food and drink, as well as Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin plastic cups. The event even came complete with large cutouts of Barack Obama and John McCain that flanked a widescreen TV, on the left and the right, respectively. Haim, who is an SJD student at the School, said Israelis favor McCain, in large part for his stance on terrorism and his policy toward countries like Iran and North Korea. “Most Israelis would like to see John McCain in the White House.”

Mad dash

If you’ve ever seen a dog get so excited that it just starts running wildly around in circles, you know what Harvard Yard looked like just after Obama was announced the winner of the presidential election. Close to 11 p.m., students flooded out of their dorms and began to race around the Yard in giant loops. They stopped first at the College Pump and next in front of John Harvard’s statue to chant the familiar Obama slogan with a twist. “Yes, we did,” the excited crowd repeated. On the edge of the student swarm, Liza Pincus, a freshman from Westchester, NY, reflected on the moment. “This is history being made in such a remarkable life-changing way for every American citizen. Clearly,” she said, “we feel it here.”