As the night wore on, the smiles faded off the faces of students viewing the election results at a watch party hosted by Student Government and SUAAB and morphed to looks of incredulity and shock.
What started as a lively, almost carnival-like atmosphere in the Galaxy Rooms, which featured free food, photo booths and large red, white and blue balloons, slowly mutated into a sobering reflection of what just a few weeks ago pundits and experts said was impossible.
As talking heads announced the electoral results of state after state on live streams of FOX News, CNN and MSNBC, the truth slowly dawned on the melting pot of viewers staring at the screens with blank faces: Republican Donald Trump would beat out Democrat Hillary Clinton, for the title of President of the United States.
The reactions were mixed across the room. Some students put their hands over their mouths to cover their gasps or held their heads in their hands, while others could only stare at the screens. One even clutched a Rosary.
A small but animated group of Trump supporters cheered as they watched the electoral votes slowly tick in their favor. But even they had a hard time believing what they saw.
“I thought he was going to lose,” said Michael Nelson, a computer engineering junior who clapped and applauded from the far side of the room as the numbers poured in through the night in favor of his candidate.
Just before midnight, Student Union workers cleared out the party-goers. It was a couple of hours before the election was officially called but late enough for people to get the gist.
As spectators slowly, quietly streamed out of the party, geoscience senior Hannah Ghotbi, who voted for Clinton, had a hard time putting her thoughts and feeling into words.
“I don’t believe it yet,” she said. “I see it, but I don’t believe it yet.”
Before the results came out, the party went off without a hitch. Hundreds of students lined up before the doors opened, hoping to get a glimpse of the action. They posed for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Clinton and Trump and masqueraded around the affair with cardboard cutouts of faces of political figures like Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan.
Students from seemingly every demographic, age range and political belief showed up to participate. Finance and accounting senior Gabriela Avina, who had voted earlier that day, came wrapped in an American flag scarf that matched the “I Voted!” sticker on her shirt.
Although she didn’t disclose who she voted for, Avina, who also cast a ballot in 2012, expressed concern at how contentious the election had been up through the final day of voting.
“It could go either way and I’m not necessarily 100 percent happy with either presidential candidate,” she said. “Not completely happy.”
That sentiment wasn’t shared by everyone in attendance, however. Twin sisters Harper and Mary Weaver, freshmen, first-time voters, both picked Clinton and anxiously switched their gaze from their laptops to their phones to the large projector screens as the night progressed to keep up with the latest updates.
For the twins, they chose to support Clinton in part because Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race, but also because of what she stood for.
“I’m a gay woman in America,” Harper Weaver said. “I don’t think Trump or Pence represent anything that would be beneficial to me. I think Hillary has an unbelievable amount of experience in this. I was a Bernie supporter, but I think she most aligns with what I believe in and what I want for my future, more than Trump and Pence do.”
On the other side, Jonathan Everson, a neuroscience junior, supported Trump for his economic policies and his conservative values.
“These two candidates are going to take the country in two separate directions,” Everson said. “Hillary is going to be more government driven and Trump is going to be driven by the individual people, the individual businessman, which is good, because the individual businessman needs to get a break so he can give jobs to everyone else.”
Although he is not a student, Bob Marquis, 76, attended the party with a friend who goes here. With a navy blue ball cap adorned with a gold Marines insignia fitted snugly on his head, the Vietnam veteran chatted with students about why he supported Donald Trump.
“I want a strong military, I want a strong Supreme Court that stands for the Constitution. I want business progress for the United States and I like what he says about that,” Marquis said.
The crowd, which leaned heavily towards Clinton, began to tense when Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan all showed Trump leading early in the night. Although a loud roar ripped through the room when analysts announced Clinton would take California, a hushed silence followed quickly after when North Carolina went to Trump.
When Florida finally shifted Trump’s way a little after 10:30 p.m., the shock began to set in for those watching. Soon, people began to hang on to every count in far off counties surrounding Milwaukee and Detroit.
For the few Trump supporters in the room, they seemed nearly as shocked as everyone else at the results.
Still, mathematics junior Richard van Natta expressed hope that Trump would bring about change in the system.
“I think him running under Republican is really him hijacking the Republican Party and I think that he’s going to make it better and different and stronger than it was before,” he said. “I also like that he’s focusing big time on reducing corruption in Washington and I think that’s very good for this nation.”
For undeclared freshman Jules Rosen, her reaction couldn’t be more different. Dressed in a pantsuit in honor of Clinton, Rosen had anxiously watched the screens all night, proclaiming how excited she was for her candidate.
Heading to the bottom floor of the SU roughly an hour and a half before Trump would hit 270 electoral votes, Rosen slowly twirled a small American flag in her hand as she reflected on what had happened.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m scared for a lot of reasons … I think that I’m scared personally, for my own friends and I’m scared for our future. I’m scared, if Trump were to win, I’m scared for so many things, for women’s rights, for LGBTQ. So, I don’t know. I’m feeling nervous right now.”
Christian Filsouf, the chairman of SG’s legislative committee, acted as the point of contact between SG and SUAAB for the event. He stressed the need for the American people to respect the office of the president, if not the president himself.
“If you’re somebody that absolutely hates Donald Trump and has no respect for him, just keep in mind it’s respect for the office that keeps the dignity of the Union together,” he said.