Samantha Barte's face lit up as she watched newly inaugurated President Barack Obama begin to speak to more than 1a million onlookers in front of the U.S. Capitol.
Ms. Barte, staring at a television broadcast of the inauguration in the UTC Multicultural Center, was warmer than the masses gathered in freezing Washington, D.C., but she was no less excited.
"I wasn't going to miss it," said Ms. Barte, a freshman biology major. "This is an historic event."
Students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were excused from classes or skipped class Tuesday to catch a glimpse of history. Students began converging around the television screen hours before President Obama was sworn in, and excitement filled the room. By the time of the actual inauguration, about 150 students were watching the TV.
For most of these students, the presidential election in November was their first time to vote and support a political candidate, said Tara Mathis, director of the center. Unlike past inaugurations, students felt invested in the event, she said.
"It was history making, and they wanted to be a part of that," said Mrs. Mathis.
Students, like most Americans, say they're concerned about job prospects, the economy and the growing cost of education, and they wanted to know how President Obama would address their concerns.
Brandon Bess, a senior majoring in finance at UTC, said he worries about entering the job market. He has several friends who have not been able to find work.
President Obama's speech spoke to many of the fears he has as a senior, Mr. Bess said. Yet, while the economy is challenging so many, he said the speech encouraged him to do his part.
"It was a mind-blowing speech," he said. "He's not saying it's going to be easy, but there is hope."