It was August of 2004 and I had settled down at a table in the Marymount Manhattan dining hall. Marymount Manhattan College is a very small liberal arts college nestled safely in Manhattan's Upper East Side. The school is known predominantly for its performing arts programs but also served as a safety school for wealthy, budding sophisticates scattered across the country. Most were drawn to the prospect of living in New York City while in the sheltered hollow of higher education.
The hall was alive with the bustle of students shuffling in and out and congregating at the tables that surrounded me. I was in the second year of my belated quest to achieve my bachelors degree at the ripe age of thirty-three. As I sat down to a meal of chicken fingers and tater tots-made soft under the glare of heating lamps-I opened my recently arrived Atlantic Monthly and began mindlessly turning the pages.
I knew what an anomaly I was already in this context but I certainly wasn't helping matters by my choice of reading material. I'm sure Atlantic Monthly was a magazine that most buzzing about me had probably only seen on their father's desk at home or in doctor's offices. I was painfully self-aware both in and out of the classroom while on "campus"-which was really just two buildings connected by a basement hallway. I decided to embrace the affectation of a pendant in an effort to combat, what I was sure was the prevailing back story circulating around campus about me, that of a tenth year Senior or worse still the "weird old dude".
So while silently trying to quell the voices in my head and derive the nutritional benefits bereft in student cuisine, I came across a one page feature that would temporarily relieve me from my identity crisis. And, plant a seed of that over time, with much nurturing, would have me believe in the impossible again. In some ways this story inspired me on my path toward my degree, in coming to terms with the incredible debt that would accompany said degree, and in eventually re-establishing some tenuous connection with my fellow students.
What strikes me now as I reflect on this scene, burned indelibly by the triumph of Obama's candidacy, is how many of those students-as yet unaware of the "skinny man with a funny name"-would join in the cause to help elect him. How, by the virtue of reading one article, I would begin to monitor a politician who did not represent me directly (he was still a state senator in Illinois at the time of the article). How I was moved to go home and make my wife promise to register to vote if he ever ran for President (a feat, seemingly no less insuperable than Obama's improbable victory). How I vowed to participate once again as a member of the electorate and to work for his campaign if it ever came to pass. How, when I saw him deliver his now famous "Audacity of Hope" speech a month later at the Democratic National Convention-on behalf of nominating Senator John Kerry for President-real chills passed through my idealism depraved body.