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Originally published January 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 21, 2009 at 9:39 AM

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A day that becomes a real teachable moment

Graham Hill Elementary threw its doors open about 45 minutes early Tuesday morning so parents, students and teachers could watch the inauguration together.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Graham Hill Elementary threw its doors open about 45 minutes early Tuesday morning so parents, students and teachers could watch the inauguration together.

The crowd grew steadily until the cafeteria was packed as the time for Obama to take the oath of office neared.

In the back, two friends — Eyerusalem Mesele, 11, an immigrant from Ethiopia who came to the United States at age 3, and Lauren Louie, 10, a Seattle native of Chinese descent, summed up the strong sense of possibility in the room.

To see Obama become president just a few days after they'd had an assembly honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, clearly gave the inauguration special resonance.

King "had a dream about this," Eyerusalem said, " and it actually came true."

When Obama stepped up to take the oath of office, the room erupted in cheers.

Graham Hill, in South Seattle, has a nearly equal mix of black, Asian and white students. And, like Obama, some are biracial, which they pointed out with pride.

Obama's "not just African American, he's mixed race," said Dayja Vallieu, 10, who describes herself as black, white and Japanese.

"People said it wasn't possible," Dayja said about Obama's presidency. "People wouldn't think about other races being president. It's really exciting."

Teachers said the event was a great teachable moment, when students could see the link between the history they'd just studied for King's birthday and current events.

Like many adults, students' expectations for the new president are high.

"I hope he makes gas prices go down and fixes all the problems that America has," said Amadi Anamelechi, 9.

And Jordan Wallace, 10, said he hopes Obama will "change some stuff because things are not going well around here.

"Taxes are going up. My mom was just complaining about that. We're hoping we're going to get a big change."

In the back rows, where most of the fifth-graders were sitting, Eyerusalem and Lauren listened intently to Obama's speech, with Eyerusalem inserting an "amen," every now and then.

Even before Obama's victory, the friends said they both believed King's dream that people would be judged by their character rather than the color of their skin would someday come true.

Now they had proof right in front of them, the nation's first African-American president on a big television screen on their school's stage, flanked by red, white and blue balloons.

"Who knows," Eyerusalem said. "Someone in this room could be president."

Lauren, who'd teased her friend earlier for such "deep" thoughts, nodded at her friend and said: "She could be the first lady president."

It was a joke — sort of.

Eyerusalem just beamed.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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