Apologies to the millions who spent the morning freezing on the National Mall, but there was perhaps no more fitting place to watch Barack Obama become president of the United States this morning than Atlanta's International Community School. Packed on the floor of small classrooms to watch the events unfolding on TV, kids born into American comfort and American struggle sat shoulder to shoulder with kids who escaped harrowing circumstances in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to make the United States their home.
"I can't believe how excited they are," said Somali teaching assistant Hibo Hassan. "When I was in first grade, did I care who the president was?"
Fourth-grade girls were preoccupied with Malia Obama, and the soon-to-be Obama puppy. Teachers embraced in the halls. Veteran civil rights activists and Central African refugees marveled with a common refrain: "I never thought, in my lifetime...." Kindergartners, catching the excitement, wriggled out of line.
Students as young as six, born in Somalia, Iran, and Ohio, had a single request of the new president: affordable housing. Several said their parents were trying to buy homes but couldn't. Others were struggling to pay the bills.
All three classes of ICS first graders packed into a single room to watch the swearing-in, and Obama's speech. They sawed imaginary instruments along with the musicians, and watched wide-eyed as their teachers teared up. When it was all over, they screamed with gusto.
And just like that, it became normal to have a president who would have fit right in at this elementary school. A president with an African father -- and a name, a face, a story like theirs.