Say what you will about his policies and his government, but president Barack Obama can give one hell of a speech.
The head of state brought down the house Tuesday in the Coors Events Center, reminding the enthusiastic crowd that they could sit if they wanted to, after everyone was still standing a couple minutes into his speech.
Obama drew laughs from the crowd with tales of his trip to the Sink, where he ate pizza and had yogurt spilled on his pants.
From my seat in the nosebleed section, Obama was barely a dot on the horizon. Even so, his light-hearted banter and jokes about the Hill made me feel like we were old friends.
Boulder resident Ann Toll brought her grandson, Aiden, a third-grader in a dress shirt and a tie, to the speech.
“He’s so excited to be here,” Toll said. “I am too. I’m delighted that this president thinks so much of the students and the education system that he would take the time to come here.”
Obama spoke for only 30 minutes, hardly enough time to get into specifics or details about his policies or plans for the future. Mostly, he discussed student loans, the opportunities that higher education brings, and the pursuit of the “American Dream.” Obama also discussed the experiences he and wife Michelle had with their own college debts.
“We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago — now think about that. I’m the president of the United States,” Obama said, garnering more laughs from the audience.
The president discussed his accomplishments since taking office in the area of higher education. He highlighted his removal of the “middle man” (subsidized banks in the student loan program), giving people the option of only paying 10 percent of their income into their debt, and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Obama then reminded those in attendance that he needed their help.
“It's not enough just to increase student aid,” Obama said. “We can't keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition, or we're just going to run out of money.”
Obama asked colleges to be accountable for rising tuition costs — an appropriate topic in light of CU’s recent approval of a 5 percent tuition increase — and called out state governments for cutting higher education funding in recent years. Obama encouraged the crowd to get on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts to ask Congress to not double interest rates on student federal loans starting July 1. He challenged CU students to get the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate trending on Twitter more quickly than students from University of North Carolina.
“I'm asking everybody who's here and anybody who's watching, anybody who's following online, you need to send a message to your member of Congress,” Obama said. “Tell them you're not going to set your sights lower. Tell them you're not going to settle for something less.”
Obama’s speech didn’t venture much into
the meatier aspects of his economic or education policies, but the star-struck
crowd seemed perfectly content with what he had to say, as they gave him more
than one standing ovation and left the events center all a twitter. (Literally.
The hashtags #obamaatcu and #dontdoublemyrate were trending for a good portion
of the evening.)
Gavin Gayden, 21, a senior at CU studying Spanish and Portuguese with a minor in economics, said that he would have been excited to hear the speech even if he weren’t a liberal.
“I think its important for all young people to be informed about what the president has to offer to them, now and maybe in the future election,” Gayden said. “It’s a great time to be a Buff.”
In the last few weeks, I have seen a fairly apathetic student body turn into a more involved and passionate group. As a senior at CU, the only other time I have been impressed with the social awareness of the students on campus was my freshman year, in 2008, when I saw hundreds of “I Voted” stickers and watched students get into heated debates about the presidential candidates.
I’m not one to endorse a candidate, but
I am of the mind that a more informed and interested student body fosters a
much healthier campus environment. Though I doubt that Obama’s speech will woo
any Republicans into voting for him, simply getting students excited about
politics and interested in voting is a contribution in and of itself.
In Obama’s words, “Your voice matters. You've got to stand up. You've got to be heard.”