On election night, Nov. 8, the Commons was teeming with students and faculty, prepared, excited or nervous for the results of the 2016 presidential election. As the most recent CNN statistics passed by on a large projection in the Commons Main Street, students called out and cheered in support of their respective candidates.
The air was thick with anticipation — an anticipation that has slowly pulsed and surged through our campus and country from the very moment this historic and oft-polarizing race began. As the night continued, the crowds continued to grow. Hordes of politically charged students swept through the Student Organization Center to arm themselves with tiny American flags and devour the free pizza that SGA provided. At every CNN update, the respective crowds cheered louder and louder for any bit of progression their candidates had made. It was truly a night that none of the attendees will soon forget.
Despite the tense nature of this presidential race, it was clear that SGA’s event, the Election Night Extravaganza, was one that would be memorable to all of its attendees, as students and faculty of different beliefs and ideologies gathered onto a common ground.
SGA’s Election Night Extravaganza was hosted by SGA’s current president, Bentley Corbett-Wilson. Some active members in Maryland politics also made appearances to give brief speeches about their hopes and wishes for the election, and for the students and faculty at UMBC. These included Maryland Delegates Eric Ebersol and Terry Hill, ex-Maryland Delegate Jon S. Cardin and UMBC’s own Freeman Hrabrowski.
According to Collin Sullivan, Assistant Speaker of the SGA Senate and member of the Election Night Extravaganza Planning Committee, the 2016 Extravaganza was SGA’s fourth rendition of the event. The event has been known to draw large amounts of UMBC students and staff to the Commons in the past. The 2008 election, which resulted in President Obama’s first term, was said to have drawn over 800 attendees to the Commons.
Every citizen deserves to have a voice and the ability to bring about change.
Sullivan, a sophomore studying information systems and economics, briefly spoke about the purpose of SGA’s election event, and the democratic spirit it represented. “It’s an event that celebrates our democracy first and foremost,” he said. “Celebrating our democracy doesn’t just imply that you are either liberal or conservative. It means that we are all proud to live in a country where we believe that every citizen deserves to have a voice and the ability to bring about change.”
Sullivan also spoke of the event from the perspective of a millennial voter. “For many of us, this is our first time voting for a president, and that’s pretty exciting,” said Sullivan. “SGA wanted to create an event that could channel all of that excitement, and provide a place where we can be excited together.”
There will never be another moment exactly like it.
“It’s important, especially now, to provide opportunities where we can listen to each other and hear our differences, but still have the ability to walk away from conversations respecting the person you talked to,” Sullivan said.
“That’s really hard,” he continued, “especially for this particular election. I think that’s been our hope for every Election Night Extravaganza — you may not have seen eye-to-eye with some people around you, but you took something away from the conversations, you had a great time and you celebrated this moment in political history together, with your UMBC family, because there will never be another moment exactly like it.”
We have always been, in some form, a divided nation.
Hrabrowski, per usual, also had plenty of wise and encouraging words for the UMBC community. Aside from the election results themselves, his words easily stuck with students the most out of all that was said that night. “This is a very special night. This is a time when the rest of the world looks at us as a nation, and more importantly, what we think of ourselves,” Hrabrowski stated. “I believe that we are in a healing process. We have always been, in some form, a divided nation. Whether you are for one candidate or another, you are a human being first, and most of you are Americans. We need to keep in mind what happens after election night.”
In classic Hrabrowski style, he challenged the UMBC community to rise above the status quo of civic duty. “We tend to believe that presidents are the ones who create change, but you all are the ones who can create change. Think about what you can do as a leader to help in the healing process. I challenge you all to be the best leaders you can be, here and now. When you meet someone with different values, focus most on how you can reach out to that fellow human being and meet on a common ground rather than dividing from that person.”
Hrabowski concluded, “America is such a special nation, and it could be even better.”