American University students were studying for finals when news of Osama bin Laden’s death spread through Facebook, Twitter and their dorm hallways. There was disbelief, then celebration as they scoured the Web for information and packed around televisions to hear President Obama confirm the news. Then they looked for a ride to the White House.
“Someone put, ‘Party on the White House lawn,’ on Facebook,” said Demi McLaren, 20, a sophomore history and secondary education major from Massachusetts who packed into a car with six other students. “We knew it was going to be a rager.”
“And we wanted to be part of that,” said her friend Zoe Colton, 19, a freshman communications and international studies major from Maine. “It’s one of those times when people say, ‘Where were you when…’”
“And we wanted to say that we were here,” McLaren said.
The students joined thousands of others late Sunday outside the gates of the White House, including students from nearby Howard, George Washington and Georgetown universities.
Chants of “U-S-A” broke out and spread through the throng, along with spontaneous patriotic sing-alongs that mixed with the sound of honking, screaming and laughter. Hundreds of people held up their cell phones to capture photos and video of the rally, while others looked down at their phones to type messages to family and friends. Some climbed up into trees to get a better view, while others shimmied up light poles with huge flags in hand. One group raised a toast with their cans of Coors Light.
Most of these college students were in elementary school when terrorists attacked the country in 2001, killing nearly 3,000 and making al-Qaeda leader bin Laden public enemy No. 1 in the United States. For these students, their childhood was one of color-coded threat levels, airport security checkpoints and ongoing war in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“We’re just old enough to remember it fully and understand what it meant,” said Kelli Gulite, 20, a sophomore political science major at GWU who was in fifth grade during the attacks.
Gulite said news spread through Facebook messages and people screaming in the dorm hallways. She packed into a friend’s dorm room with more than a dozen others to watch Obama’s address, in which he declared: “Justice has been done.” After he finished speaking, the group broke out into the national anthem and the theme song from the comedy “Team America.”
“We were all singing. And we are all from different sides of the political spectrum,” said Abby Bergren, 20, a sophomore political science major from Ohio. “It was really cool.”
Then the group of friends rushed from GWU’s campus in Foggy Bottom to the White House, which is just a few blocks away. At the same time, students poured out of the library, taking a break from studying for finals that begin today.
Maya Frazier, a GWU sophomore political communications major, was studying for a history test when she heard the news.
“We were 10 years old when this happened. This is our history,” she said. “We have to be out here.”