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Published: February 10, 2023

UT Students Excited to Be in the Room Where It Happened

Some UT students experienced what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Thursday when the president of the United States spoke on campus. 

	UT Students Excited to Be in the Room Where It Happened UT students waited outside Plant Hall to see the motorcade arrive. Photo by Jessica Leigh

Alicia Ambra ‘26, a political science and international studies major, was one of about 75 students who volunteered during the event and was later invited to listen to President Joe Biden speak in Plant Hall’s Fletcher Lounge.  

Ambra helped White House officials check in VIP guests. She said that seeing what goes on behind the scenes was a unique experience, and following the speech, she was able to take a selfie with the president.

UT Students Excited to Be in the Room Where It HappenedAbout 75 students volunteered for the event.

“I couldn’t believe I was actually in the room with him!” she said.

Other students were selected to attend the speech based on their roles in student government and involvement in the All In for Democracy Coalition. 

Mary Anderson, a political science professor and co-chair of the coalition, said it was a tremendous honor to extend an invitation to two students. 

“I think our students have worked really hard on the behalf of promoting democracy and working to register students to vote and getting them to vote,” she said. 

“They understand how important democracy is and how important voting is to the democratic process, and so for them to be able to listen to the president of the United States is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

Will Arnold, who got his bachelor’s degree in political science in 2022 and is now in the instructional design and technology graduate program, is one of the students whom Anderson invited.  

“This opportunity provides me and the wider UT community, regardless of political affiliation, the chance to come together and be inspired by an individual who has accomplished extraordinary things, shown dedication and provided years of service across the course of his career,” Arnold said.

Arnold also mentioned Biden’s personal story of loss and perseverance and how students can learn from it.

“It reminds us as students just starting our journeys that we are capable of great things if we are dedicated, respectful of others, and remain resilient through challenges,” he said. 

More than 100 students who did not attend the event in person still watched the speech on the big screen at the Riseman Aquatic Center.

“Being able to watch this [speech] outside at the pool really describes Florida living at UT,” said Antonio Cardenas ’25. “There’s a real sense of unity among everyone here. It doesn’t matter what your politics are.” 

UT Students Excited to Be in the Room Where It HappenedSome students had the chance to take a selfie with President Biden following the event. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Russell Krebs

As for Anderson, she intends to bring what she learned Thursday back to her classes.

She teaches political psychology, which discusses political leaders and the venues they speak in, the topics they talk about and the history that made them the person they are.

“President Biden’s history is not a secret one — everyone knows the hardships he has had and what he has come back from, and that makes him very relatable to a lot of people,” she said.

Anderson experienced his relatability firsthand when she met the president prior to his taking the stage.

“He was personable and genuinely interested in meeting all of us representing the University of Tampa,” she said. “Regardless of party identification, it was a tremendous honor for our campus to be selected to host the president of the United States.”

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