By Laura Yates
When the Clinton and Obama campaigns lined up Thursday visits to the Athens campus by Chelsea Clinton and Michelle Obama, Outlook asked student writers Laura Yates and Breanne Smith to share first-person accounts of the visits.
The first floor of Baker University Center is not where I would expect to run into a former first daughter. Students poorly playing pool and ping pong -- yes. Chelsea Clinton and her entourage -- no. Yet there I found myself Thursday afternoon, sitting cross-legged on the rather unaccommodating carpet surrounded by a swarm of fellow students waiting for the political princess.
Fifteen minutes after her projected arrival time, an awkward shuffle rippled through the crowd as students already standing shoulder-to-shoulder and adorned in winter attire compacted even more in attempt to squeeze in additional spectators. The die-hard Clinton fans, who had staked out their front-row seats early, chattered cheerfully amongst themselves, eyes excited and support posters blazing.
I couldn't help but overhear a student next to me mutter, "I'm a little angry at Chelsea for being late. I'm supposed to be in class right now!" Though he glanced fretfully at his watch, my neighbor stayed put, obviously sharing the thoughts of all the other students playing hooky that afternoon: class is every day, but Chelsea in Athens only happens once.
And then, almost half an hour overdue, one of the glass doors that leads to the first-floor patio opened. The green, floor-length curtains swirled in a blast of winter wind and in swept Chelsea Clinton. Phones, digital camera and other high-tech recording devices flashed. This truly was a crowd of the 21st century.
Dashing in her dark, skinny jeans and shiny, black high heels, Chelsea is obviously a figure the college demographic can relate to. Despite her jokes about turning 28 the day before, Chelsea could get carded if she went to a bar uptown, joked one OU alumnus. With her cheerful smile and curled blonde hair, she also would probably blend into any senior seminar.
Though I came to the event with low expectations (after all, Chelsea is only famous by default), I found myself growing increasingly impressed by her poise, expertise and relatability. And so was the student body. Boisterous applause erupted when she discussed her mother's positions on health care, funding for higher education and equal pay for women. Heads nodded when she spoke about "ending the war on science," and everyone had a good laugh when she was asked to comment on conservative pundit Ann Coulter.
Despite the square-shouldered police chief blocking my main line of vision (his eyes on the crowd reminded me of what the Red Cross taught me in lifeguard training: always scanning, scanning, scanning...) I was sucked in by the event's homey, approachable feel that I'm sure the Clinton campaign carefully crafted. And I was pleased by how Chelsea didn't present a scripted speech. In fact, after a brief introduction, the entire session was formatted as a Q & A conversation. Although the first questions came from women in Hillary's demographic rather than Chelsea's, the Clinton charm soon won over the students as bashfulness vanished and everyone wanted to a chance to question Chelsea.
I was astonished by her knowledge on every issue raised, and boy, did they vary. From LGBT rights to fair trade to Hillary's former Wal-Mat associations, questions bounced every which way like pool balls after the break. One question focused on autism, not exactly a hot-button issue, and I found myself slack jawed as Chelsea expertly ticked off autism facts and statistics as if she were a psychology major. Impressive.
With sunlight trickling through the wall of glass windows and drawn curtains, Chelsea spoke in a Bobcat glow -- both figuratively and literally. Though the green drapes did indeed cast a green aura throughout the room, the intensity of Ohio University's students was almost palpable. As someone who considers herself pretty politically aware (it helps that I'm going to graduate with a certificate in political communications), I am not a radial Clinton fan or even a staunch liberal (like so many in this town). In fact, I have not even decided which party's ballot I'm going to request on Tuesday. But the excitement that permeated the billiard lounge (of all places) that afternoon was undeniable, and I felt myself being swept along.
Regardless of my political affiliations, or of anyone else's, political awareness is vital for a well-rounded education, and Chelsea provided a great crash course. As the session wound down and I went scurrying off to class, I looked back to see Chelsea Clinton happily surrounded by students requesting autographs and pictures. I'm not sure if her mom is the right woman for the White House, but yesterday afternoon Chelsea was definitely the right woman for Athens.
Here's what other students had to say after Chelsea Clinton's visit:
"It's great that three political figures (Chelsea, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama) have been to the Ohio University area in the past two weeks. We have really been provided with a lot of opportunities to be involved in the political process."
-- Katie Kitzler, junior biology major
"Before I had questions on who to vote for and what plans Hillary had in order to get this country back into the positive, so to speak. I think Chelsea's visit helped me make a decision. It's important for students to be informed because if they don't know, then people like Bush get elected."
-- Chad Ellis, sophomore meteorology major
"A lot of us college students can really relate to Chelsea because she's not that much older than us. She was here answering students' questions on what students here at Ohio University actually care about and want to know."
-- Sarah Kilbarger, senior history major and co-organizer of Ohio University Students for Hillary, organizers of yesterday's event
"A huge chunk of voters are college students, and for a lot of them, this will be the first election they're voting in. So it really is nice to have people come here and tell us what's going on."
-- Tim Hatcher, junior geography major