Obamania in Boulder

President Barack Obama visits CU-Boulder to speak on higher education

Hadley Vandiver | Boulder Weekly

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

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.”