by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
“Electric,” “enthusiastic” and “incredible” are just a few of the words students use to describe the atmosphere on campus on Election Day as hundreds of students shuttled off to the polls, cast their ballots and awaited the results.
It was a thrilling milestone for the college’s first-time voters and a finish-line push for the dozens of student volunteers on both sides of the party divide who had campaigned tirelessly all semester to ensure that their fellow Dickinsonians were prepared—and galvanized—for the big event.
“We had some amazing volunteers, and we also talked to so many people who were excited for this experience,” said Brooke Serra '15, who, like many fellow students across the political spectrum, had logged dozens of hours canvasing houses, making calls and knocking on residence-hall doors in support of the cause.
Rallying the troops
Volunteers for the College Democrats, College Republicans, Students for Mitt Romney and Students for Barack Obama pulled out all the stops on Election Day. Serra and fellow Students for Barack Obama volunteers Siobhan O’Grady ‘13, Elliot Hecht '15, Alexander Toole ’14 and Robert Spriggs '14 had spent the evening before the election in Scranton, Pa., where they hobnobbed with Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Senator Bob Casey at an Obama rally with President Bill Clinton as keynote speaker. They emerged from the rally with a renewed sense of purpose.
All day long, students took shuttles from the campus to the polling site at the nearby Grace Baptist Church. The shuttles ran to the poll site every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.
President William G. Durden '71, Vice President for Enfollment & Communications and Dean of Admissions Stephanie Balmer, Vice President for Student Development April Vari, Associate Director of Admissions Molly Boegel, Associate Professor of History Christopher Bilodeau and Associate Professor of Mathematics Dave Richeson each volunteered their services.
"One of the most inspiring parts of the day for me was watching President Durden pick up students," said Will Nelligan '14, vice president of the Student Senate, which funded the celebrity shuttles. "He drove more than 50 students during his hourlong shift."
"I appreciated the opportunity to hear how truly excited and proud the students were to be voting for the first time in a presidential election," Vari said. Balmer agreed: "The students' vitality and commitment to preserving democracy was truly inspiring."
So on their return to Carlisle, the volunteers hung signs on campus to direct voters to the shuttle buses that would take them to the polls. “We were up and it again only two hours after that, and we were some of the first voters to cast our ballots in Carlisle that morning,” O’Grady says.
And their work had only just begun. Throughout the day, the College Democrats camped on Britton Plaza and the College Republicans did the same in the HUB, while Students for Mitt Romney and Students for Barack Obama pounded the pavement at college hotspots, such as the Dining Hall, the library and HUB. Each group stumped for their candidates and reminded fellow students that the day had arrived. In between classes, students picked up pizzas and donuts for volunteers and squeezed in a few last-minute campaign calls.
“We had dozens of students volunteer to get out the vote, and dozens more came into our office yesterday just to offer support and words of gratitude,” said Toole, who spent the day canvasing the campus. “I was extremely proud to be a Dickinsonian.”
The final stretch
When the polls closed at 8 p.m., some students headed to The Depot for a watch party hosted by the College Democrats. “The atmosphere was electrifying. We had a very enthusiastic crowd, and we came together as one Dickinson community,” said Matthew Hillsberg '13, president of the College Democrats, who estimates that approximately 200 students attended the event.
Bit by bit, students filed in to watch as, on the big screen, CNN analysts filled in counties and states with blotches of red and blue. “There was a lot of stress in the room,” said Serra. “You could feel the anxiety from everyone.”
The intensity was compounded by the fact that updates rolled in from many different places at once, as students tracked home-state results on MacBooks, iPhones and iPads. For O'Grady, the technologies offered an opportunity to keep close tabs on Elizabeth Warren's race for the Senate. "When I heard that she won, I stood up on a chair and screamed the result to the packed Depot," O'Grady recalled. "Everyone responded with cheers."
But the convenience of multi-outlet aggregation had a downside, too, noted Hillsberg. “At one point, I started getting texts that FOX News, NBC and ABC had called Ohio [for President Obama], and that Obama was projected to win. But CNN waited another five minutes to make the call,” he said with a smile. “It was a long five minutes.”
When CNN did make that call—the determination that Obama was the projected winner—the crowd got on its feet. “Hearing those words and seeing it flash across the screen made me feel like I had won the presidency myself,” said O’Grady. “We couldn't stop hugging, crying and cheering.”
“We just knew that all the hard work had paid off,” said Serra. “All the countless weekends we spent in the rain, knocking on doors, or nights we spent making phone calls was worth it. Everyone knew that we had done something incredible, and we were so proud. I just felt like the proudest person in the world.”
Toole agreed. “President Obama's re-election makes me feel as though all the hard work I did on the campaign the past two months paid off, and that my voice has been heard as an American,” he said. “I am so excited for the next four years.”
Learn more about the 2012 presidential election at Dickinson:
Published November 7, 2012