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Hempstead school unveils Barack Obama Elementary

Shiny gold letters now spell out the new name of a Hempstead school where students campaigned to change it to Barack Obama Elementary.

Students, teachers, parents, politicians and community leaders stood in the cold yesterday as they watched the unveiling of the new sign above the entrance of what was formerly Ludlum Elementary School.

Hours of speeches and performances preceded the moment, including a serenade by a former student and a passionate oration about the power of education by the fifth-grade debate team.

That's the team of students who, during Obama's bid for the White House, put together a mock presidential debate that inspired their classmates to request a name change.

The district's board unanimously approved the change soon after the election, making it the first school in the nation to bear Obama's name.

But no sign had marked its new name until yesterday's ceremonial unveiling.

"Now that the sign is up we are now officially stars in the sky," said fifth-grader Esta Thomas. "We are leaders today."

Principal Jean Bligen told the packed gymnasium that the name change has inspired students to pay attention to the news and Obama's decisions.

"Our students feel empowered that they can actually make a difference, that they actually have a voice," she said. "The nation's eyes are upon us. President Barack Obama challenges us all to make a difference."

Last month, as students at the school watched Obama's inauguration on a giant screen, some held out hope that the president would show up at the renaming ceremony.

Carla McKeithan, 10, said she understands he's busy. "I really hope that Obama comes one day," she said.

Keynote speaker Nassau County Court Judge Jerald Carter reflected on the legacies of all those who struggled and sacrificed for equality long before Obama's historic presidency such as the Tuskegee Airmen and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was abducted from his uncle's home in Money, Miss., by two white men after he supposedly whistled at a white woman. Till was found brutally murdered three days later.

"I take issue with the fact that Obama opened the door," Carter said. "Barack Obama stands on a foundation."

A picture of the school's original namesake, Dr. Charles Ludlum, a longtime board member who traveled by horse and buggy to treat patients, hangs outside the gym entrance. The school was built in 1928.

About 80 years later, the 460-student school's enrollment is 62 percent Hispanic and 36 percent African-American.

Across the hall from Ludlum's portrait is one of Obama.

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