By Breanne Smith
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.
It's a rare Thursday that I climb out of bed 20 minutes early to shower before sprinting out the door, but this wasn't just any Thursday. I knew that for one hour I'd be in the presence of a national icon, or, if you're picky about whom you call an icon, the wife of a national icon. The fact that I knew ahead of time that I'd have my picture taken for this story didn't hurt the shower argument, either.
I showed up at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium (Mem Aud, to us Bobcats) an hour and 15 minutes before Michelle Obama was supposed to take the stage. I, along with other members of the press, huddled in the cold until we were allowed inside to sign in, have our camera equipment sniffed by some surprisingly playful-looking dogs and undergo a quick body search by a couple very serious-looking Secret Service people.
I listened to Victor Imbres' "(Your love keeps lifting me) Higher and Higher" blare over the speaker system while I contemplated the large blue banner hanging across the stage. Underneath enormous letters proclaiming Barack Obama's name to anyone worried they were in the wrong place (as if the multitude of Obama stickers and signs adorning the audience weren't tip-offs), was the catch phrase "Change We Can Believe In." I wondered if I was the only person with the strong urge to initiate change right then and there: I wanted to edit the sign to say, "Change In Which We Can Believe." Perhaps I'm the only person bothered by sentences ending in prepositions.
The auditorium was flooded with people. Before Michelle arrived, the aisles were a stream of bodies trying to make it as close to the stage as possible. When Michelle finally took her place at the podium, following introductions by both David Wilhelm, Ohio alumnus and former campaign coordinator for Bill Clinton, and OU Students for Barack Obama Chapter Coordinator Liz Clark, the audience responded with a standing ovation and then quickly settled down to a stillness I hadn't expected.
Michelle, whose husband's politics I haven't followed closely, held the audience's attention for a steady hour. She was appropriately disgusted by the cost of higher education, appropriately respectful of her parents and the older generation, and appropriately funny. "It's been quite a year for the Obama household. In case you haven't heard, my husband's running for president," she quipped. She was even appropriately dressed, her blue and black ensemble mirroring the banner and stage curtains behind her. I especially liked the Jackie-Kennedy-goes-21st-century combination of white pearls and a studded black belt.
While clothes don't make the woman, her charisma and earnestness were apparent. I hadn't expected to find myself nodding agreement to so many comments during the hour event, but I just couldn't help myself, and neither could many in the Mem Aud crowd estimated at more than 1,600.
Faculty and students who were present seemed to agree with me. Patricia Stokes, a Women's Studies professor, found the talk encouraging.
"I like what Michelle said about seeing democracy not as something we limp along every few years," Stokes said, "but as a way of life."
Journalism Professor Bernhard Debatin agreed: "We have so much inequity and injustice. This is going to be one of our most exciting elections."
James Archibald, a graduate student studying higher education, is a strong Obama supporter and didn't want to miss out on this opportunity to hear more about the campaign.
"It's so good that the campaign is visiting OU," Archibald said. "There's a unique population here, and who I hope to be the future first lady is willing to hear the necessities of this population."
Pre-physical therapy major Rachel Klee had seen Bill Clinton at the Athens Community Center earlier this week.
"I wanted to see what the other candidate has to offer," she said. "I saw Bill, but Mrs. Obama really came across to me better. Her comments on the working class were persuasive."
Jaden Hyde, a sophomore studying political science, felt the same way.
"I liked how she made her points so easy to understand," Hyde said. "I could appreciate it as a college student, and she was very relatable."
English Professor Amritjit Singh attended because he was curious about the campaign, and seeing Michelle Obama in person was too good of an opportunity to let pass. He summed up his opinion of the event in one word: "Fabulous."
I have to say I agree. Will I vote for Obama? I don't know. Is Michelle running?