Tuesday's inauguration of America's first black president is a dream come true for University of Toledo freshman Derek Shy - who was among 2,500 people gathered Monday for the school's annual tribute to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
"This shows how far our country has come," Mr. Shy said after Monday's gathering, during which King was praised for ultimately paving the way for Barack Obama's presidency.
While the day's focus was on the two black leaders, UT President Lloyd Jacobs also announced the university will expand its free tuition program to students in Ohio's 21 urban centers..
"Here at the University of Toledo we work consciously to live out the value system to which Dr. King was committed. We believe in diversity," Dr. Jacobs said.
King, who advocated peaceful resistance and equality, was assassinated April 4, 1968.
Toledoans joined others nationwide in honoring the slain civil-rights leader with celebrations, programs, and services.
Della Williams, who sang Monday with the Clarence Smith Community Chorus at UT's Savage Arena, said the event was more significant considering today's milestone in Washington.
"It has a lot more meaning and it's part of a dream being fulfilled that we are all part of," Ms. Williams said. "[The event] today was good for all of the youth here to see this, and the history, because a lot of the time they don't know the cost there was for us to be here and for us to get this president."
Kenneth Lewis, 53, of the Old West End, attended the tribute.
"This was a great event and it shows that people can come together," Mr. Lewis said. "The election of Barack Obama shows that we have come a long way."
Dozens of local political and religious leaders also attended.
The ceremony included stirring songs and a video tribute to King, produced by Keyser William Lucas.
The short film was a collection of King's speeches and interviews, as well as an excerpt from Mr. Obama's Nov. 4 acceptance speech in Chicago.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said the "hopes of the world" rest on Mr. Obama's shoulders more so than any other American president.
He called King "a man of intense character. A man of intense morality."
The mayor also said it was appropriate that Dr. Jacobs announced the expansion of its free tuition program during a tribute for the slain civil-rights leader.
The UT Guarantee program was first offered to the state's six largest cities. It allows students with a 3.0 grade-point-average who show some financial need to attend the university for free.
As long as the student qualifies for a Pell Grant when filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, UT will pick up the tab for what financial aid doesn't cover.
The program originally focused on Ohio's largest cities - Toledo, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Dayton.
It will add the following 15 locations: Canton, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Elyria, Euclid, Hamilton, Lima, Lorain, Mansfield, Middletown, South-Western, Springfield, Trotwood-Madison, Warren, and Youngstown.
The UT Guarantee program is good for four years of study at UT, as long as the student maintains a 3.0 GPA and completes 30 credit hours each school year.
The university's program, which included a 20-minute processional of community leaders and organizations, ended with a community luncheon.
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