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After an epic six-month primary battle, Senator Barack Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate, emerged as the likely Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, becoming the first black nominee from a major political party.
The Illinois senator claimed the nomination in a speech in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday after capturing the 2,118 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Obama has already made history as a first black president—of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. Obama also worked as a research assistant for constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 for a year and assisted him with a book.
“He is the most extraordinary student that I have ever taught,” Tribe said. “He had a level of maturity and vision and a degree of authenticity and a moral compass that was so powerful that it was just magnetic.”
Even though Obama has secured a majority of delegates, his challenger, Senator Hillary Clinton, did not drop out of the race, saying in a speech in New York on Tuesday that she would be “making no decisions tonight.”
“It’s a wonderful day for America,” Tribe said. “It would be more wonderful if Hillary had the grace to bow out with some semblance of self-respect, but that will come in time.”
Law professor Kenneth W. Mack, one of Obama’s classmates from the Law School, said that many of the qualities that helped Obama secure the nomination were already evident when he was elected president of the Law Review.
“He had a reputation for wisdom and insight—beyond being booksmart, which he evidently was—that seemed to belie the fact that he was only a few years older than most of us,” Mack wrote in an e-mailed statement.
Mack added that the Law Review election demonstrated Obama’s ability to bridge divides with those who did not share his opinion. Conservative students with fundamentally different ideologies than Obama still agreed that he “was the best candidate to lead an often bitterly divided institution,” Mack wrote.
Obama’s supporters at the Law School also emphasized the racial significance of the milestone. Mack noted that Obama’s campaign was able to triumph in predominantly white states like Iowa (which is 96 percent white) and Montana (which is 0.5 percent black).
Obama’s victory “points toward a racial future that no one quite grasps but that he is helping to define,” Mack noted.
Martha L. Minow, who also taught Obama at the Law School, said that the senator’s campaign “echoes qualities” that she “saw in him as a student.”
Obama has “an amazing ability to combine vision with analysis, emotion with reason, and hope with good sense,” said Minow, whose well-connected father, Newton, was an early and prominent backer of Obama in Chicago.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the movement he has inspired is transforming American politics. Hang onto your hats: more is to come.”
Obama’s historic victory also made ripples well beyond America’s borders. At the Harvard Kennedy School’s Class Day ceremony yesterday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told graduates to “think big” and “let your dreams soar.”
“After all who would have thought that a minority—albeit a Harvard graduate—would change forever the American political landscape,” said Johnson-Sirleaf, the world’s first black woman president.
—Lauren D. Kiel and Alexandra Perloff-Giles contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Kevin Zhou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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