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UT Students in Awe After Meeting Obama

Published: January 28, 2010

View photos from the event on UT's Image Gallery.

It’s not every day you get to meet the President of the United States.

That was a common sentiment among those waiting for tickets Wednesday and those standing in line early Thursday morning, waiting to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who held a town hall meeting at The University of Tampa Jan. 28. It was the first appearance President Obama made after delivering the State of the Union address on Wednesday evening.

“It was such an honor. I would have never have guessed I’d get an opportunity like this,” said Chris McCarthy ’11, UT’s Student Government vice president, who greeted the president and vice president at a private reception before Obama and Biden took the stage in the Martinez Sports Center.

“It’s the beauty of our country that as a regular person you can meet the president of the United States,” said McCarthy, who handed a letter he wrote to the president’s assistant, who promised the president would get it while on Air Force One.

In the letter, McCarthy thanked the president for coming to campus and let him know of the buzz it generated among students.

“It was something else. It’s hard to describe,” said McCarthy, an entrepreneurship major, who was among more than 3,000 taking part in the town hall meeting. “It’s surreal. You can’t believe that he’s standing in the room with you. It was definitely an honor and a privilege.”

McCarthy wasn’t the only student getting close to the president. Forty were chosen to sit on the stage behind him as well as 20 faculty and 20 staff members. Another 50 volunteers helped staff the event, including the UT Jazz Band and ROTC cadets and cadre. UT senior Mel Steiner ’10 performed the national anthem.

“I've actually never sung it before in front of an audience, but the crowd was very supportive,” Steiner said. “I will remember today for the rest of my life.”

During the speech, President Obama touched on many of the highlights of his State of the Union address, including the costs of higher education and reducing student loan debt, which elicited a loud cheer and standing ovation.

“It took us 10 years to pay off Michelle's loans and 15 to pay off mine. I've been there,” Obama said. “Our belief is that nobody should go broke because they chose to go to college.”

Kim Northup, associate director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, said she was impressed with the level of involvement the White House asked of UT’s students. She said this kind of experience is what college is all about.

“Whether you agree with the politics or not, this will generate a lot of conversation, which is the most valuable educational outcome we could ask for,” Northup said.

Lauren Mason ’11, who is majoring in elementary education, said the first opportunity she had to vote was in this past presidential election. She said Obama’s visit was something she wasn’t going to miss.

“He’s here, at my school, in my gym,” Mason said. “I’m just in awe.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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