PALMETTO — Karla Sams was uncertain how her Lincoln Middle School students would react Tuesday.
At 12:05 p.m., the reading coach got a resounding answer.
When President Barack Obama began reciting the oath of office, 30 kids rose as one, coming to attention as the inauguration unfolded on the big TV in the school media center.
“It was the right thing to do,” said sixth-grader Sabria Bruton.
“It shows honor,” said seventh-grader Kagan Schmidt.
“It was the moment of truth,” said eighth-grader Betty Diaz.
Seconds later, when Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “Congratulations, Mr. President,” applause and cheering filled the room.
The diverse group of students understood the event’s significance.
“They’re proud one of theirs is president,” said seventh-grader Taylor Zeisloft. “I can feel it. It feels good.”
“This gives us hope,” said eighth-grader Ariel Vasquez.
“To see this historical moment while I’m young, it’s emotional,” said eighth-grader Tre Williams.
Emotional for adults in the room, too.
Registrar Gwen McElroy and Elston Brown, the science department chairman, embraced.
She was in segregated Lincoln High’s last graduating class and has spent 38 years at the middle school.
“As we walked the hallways and went from room to room, not seeing anybody but Afro-Americans, we never thought this day would come,” said the 1969 alum.
Brown, who graduated from Manatee High, attended Lincoln and his parents taught there.
“We’re realizing some of (Martin Luther) King’s dreams and it’s awesome, absolutely awesome,” he said. “It’s happening. It’s here.”
Obama’s inauguration points the way for others, such as seventh-grader Desmond Brown.
“It shows that no matter what color you are, you can always follow your dreams, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve them,” he said. “It just speaks to you.”
It certainly did to sixth-grader Rickari Trevorah.
“He did something people probably thought impossible,” she said. “It makes me want to strive. I could be the first African-American female president.”