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Packed Crowd Stands Up for President Obama at Paradise Gate

Jan. 20, 2009 — As the nation's former leader walked toward the helicopter waiting to fly him back to Texas, the large group of residents gathered Tuesday around the big-screen television set up at Paradise Gate on St. Thomas whooped and hollered as the camera cut to President Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden waving George W. Bush off in the background.
The celebration at Paradise Gate kicked off early Tuesday morning, as locals and visitors alike packed into the restaurant to stake out their spots at the bar, around nearby booths or in front of the massive 25-foot screen that broadcast the inauguration live from the nation's capital. Turned into the island's official Obama headquarters by the Certified Tour Guide Association and Sen. Louis P. Hill — who co-sponsored the day's event with the assistance of the restaurant's owners, staff and principals of MKONE Productions — by noon Paradise Gate burst at the seams, with everyone settling down with a friend and a plate of food to watch the news coverage.
"I feel elated," said community activist Jason Budsan, sporting a Barack Obama T-shirt and sitting at a table decorated with red, white and blue balloons. "Every time I see a friend in the street, the first words out of my mouth are not 'good afternoon,' but 'Obama,' and everybody starts screaming with me and bursting out in applause. It's just amazing."
Turning toward one of the television screens, Budsan's eyes widen as they pan to the image of millions of people gathered on the mainland for the event.
"Look at the crowd," he said. "It's unreal — I mean, that's Martin Luther King, right there. He's going to ask us as citizens to become the same kind of activists, to become part of providing the solutions to our problems. And what we really have to do as a community — wherever we are — is step up to the plate."
The size of the crowd at the restaurant, the excitement buzzing through the air and the constant conversations filtering through every corner of the room spoke volumes about the island's support for the new president. The words "hope" and "change" were frequently exchanged, as couples, friends, mothers and their children embraced and turned their faces in rapt attention to the television screen, watching the new president as he prepared to give his Inauguration Day address.
And when the shivering crowd gathered in Washington, D.C., was asked to stand for the swearing in, every single person in the St. Thomas restaurant got to his feet, held his breath and burst into waves of applause, tears and shouts of joy after Obama took the oath of office and stepped up to the podium to address the nation. The room was swathed in silence once again, with heads nodding as he spoke about the state of the economy, the need to create more jobs, provide affordable health care to citizens, tap into alternative-energy sources and make sure that America's education systems are poised to "meet the demands of the new age."
The president's message of unity and inclusion, of transparent government and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenges, was not lost on the V.I. crowd. Wiping away her tears with a napkin, St. Thomas resident Allison Krivatche said Obama's speech brought up memories of her family's struggles with slavery and segregation.
"I am just overwhelmed," she said after the speech. "I'm so full of happiness and hope right now, and filled with awe for so many reasons — one of them being that I remember growing up with my great-grandmother, who was the daughter of slaves. She died at 105 years old. This is a moment we thought would never happen — it's a moment I thought would never happen."
"Inspirational" was another word used frequently throughout the morning, as residents discussed the content of Obama's speech and continued to watch as the news cameras picked up images of the new president making his way to other Inauguration Day events.
"He is inspiring to listen to — always," said St. Thomas resident Cindy Shearer. "I'm just glad to be here. I was supposed to be at work today, but I really didn't want to miss this. I think the president did a good job with balancing the hope in his speech with the very real challenges that are coming up ahead. He's got a great message, and that's really why he is where he is."
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