President Bollinger addresses the crowd gathered on Low Plaza to watch the historic event. (2:46)

A crowd of several thousand gathered together on the steps of Low Library to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the first Columbia graduate to be elected president of the United States.

Students, faculty members, alumni, staffers and community members—even elementary school students from the School at Columbia—watched intently, with applause and occasional cheers during the ceremony. After Obama took the oath of office, there were more cheers across campus and nearby church bells pealed.

"Every now and then in life, you get the opportunity to be part of something you can be certain will be remembered for ages to come," Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger, said to the crowd shortly before the inaugural began. "Today the entire world, it seems, is convening to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama."

A substantial number of local and national media came to cover what appeared to be one of the largest such watch-events outside of the millions who stood for miles along the Mall in Washington.

Here on campus, where it was the first day of the new semester, some professors let classes out early so students could watch the inaugural event on the large screen. At one graduate school professors took a break from a faculty meeting to do so, too. The President's office provided free cocoa and cider on the plaza, and students at tables laden with Columbia-blue themed clothing peddled their wares.

At the School of Social Work, Prof. Fred Ssewamala watched with his students because, he said, "I wanted to share the historical moment; I couldn't watch this alone."

The fourth graders from the School at Columbia cheered loudest and waved their blue and white shakers when Obama's daughters, 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sascha, were introduced. But the ovation from the rest of the crowd swelled the first time Obama appeared on the television screen, before he even was on the podium, and was louder still in the moments after he took the oath of office.

Mary Ghadimi, a sophomore majoring in East Asian studies, came out to Low to view the inauguration with her brother who is also a Columbia College student. "I wanted to share this with the campus because this is our first African American president and the first time I'm here [in the U.S.] during a presidential inauguration," said the Japanese-born Ghadimi. "This is an important, historic moment...I think it's fitting that the first African American president comes from Columbia."

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