The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity did not disappoint. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College drew more than 11,000 enthusiastic supporters on Saturday, under a partly cloudy but forgiving sky.
In a repeat performance of his Thursday night acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama touted the value of education, a cause he has supported through investments in job training and community colleges.
“Education is the gateway of opportunity,” Obama said. “It was for Michelle and me. … Millions of students are spending less on their education, including students here because we finally took on a system that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on banks and lenders.”
Manuel Martinez, Student Government President for the Seminole Campus, was lucky enough to get a personal introduction to the Commander in Chief.
“It was incredible: one day I woke up and now I’m meeting the President,” said Martinez, who greeted Obama as he walked through the University Partnership Building. “I got to shake his hand. It was an honor.”
Obama went on to say about his opponent Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 Presidential election: “You can gut education like these other folks are recommending or you can choose your future if you’re willing to move forward with us.”
Judging from the reaction of those behind him shaking blue signs that read “forward,” it was obvious the crowd was with him. What was also obvious was the level of people’s dedication to get a glimpse of a sitting president.
Despite a 30-second rain shower around 10 a.m., the lines of people waiting to pass through security and into the event snaked around the campus Library, over to the Seminole Recreation Center and down 113th St. The throngs, who took to parking on side streets in surrounding neighborhoods and walking to the campus, were so immense at one point that an announcement was made that anyone parking on 113th Street would be towed.
The Florida heat also took its tolls on some in the crowd, who stood on the field near the campus’ Nature Park for more than two hours to hear Obama’s 30-minute speech. More than a dozen people were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, begrudgingly giving up their spots close to the president.
Their shirts drenched with sweat and their smiles wide, college officials were beaming with pride, however, about being chosen to host the President.
“It’s a wonderful day for the college,” said SPC President Bill Law. “All of us feel very proud when the eyes of America and the world are on us.”
“It was a fabulous event,” said Seminole Provost Jim Olliver. “It was a huge crowd with a lot of students in the audience. When tickets were first distributed, it was amazing to see so many students show up to get them.”
SPC student Joy Gann, Vice President of the Seminole Campus Student Government Association, was just “ecstatic to be in the presence of someone who runs the country.”
SPC student Samantha Bergamo, who studies digital animation on the Seminole Campus, echoed the sentiments of many when she said: “The most amazing part was my dad called me afterwards and said I’m the first person in the family to see the president in person. No one else has ever seen the President in person. You had to get that ticket.”