“Now would be the best time to have a dorm party,” secondary education major Jack Whidden commented to his friends. “Every cop in Palm Beach County’s out here.”
It was 1:16 and students had been shifting across Volusia Street while lining up to see President Barack Obama. The line had been open since 12:30, and despite students pouring into The Burrow, it still stretched over a mile toward the women’s soccer field.
Students were skipping class to see the commander-in-chief.
“It’s really special,” Aeden Braddock, a sophomore computer science major, explained. “How many opportunities am I going to get to hear the president speak? The president or class? Not a tough choice.”
Inside, The Burrow was more full than it had been the entire basketball season. Former FAU football head coach Howard Schnellenberger mingled with the crowd beforehand, smiling and posing for pictures.
“Let [Obama] know coach Schnellenberger is reporting for duty,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be here. More importantly, we get a chance to practice a wave.”
Although the wave was more of a ripple, students still asserted Obama’s presence was great for the university.
“It’s time to go to UF and flip them a double middle finger,” Jack Whidden said.
In the stands, students were standing and snapping pictures, though Obama was nowhere to be seen. Those standing closest to the president’s podium, however, were attempting to squeeze between the barricades.
“It’s dense, but I guess that’s a good thing,” Aleksandra Krawczyk, a language development major from the honors college, said. “Not a good advantage for us short people.”
After a half-hour wait inside The Burrow, there were three false alarms before Obama took the stage. The first entrance was FAU President Mary Jane Saunders, to the confusion of some students. One even asked “Who the hell is that?”
She announced the next speaker would be the president. It turned out to be Ayden Maher, the student body president. He apologized for not being Obama, and then led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following the pledge, FAU student Rebecca Guillaume sang the national anthem, and the crowd joined for the final verse. The crowd re-rallied to an “F-A-U” chant. Finally, Obama made his entrance at 3:01 to flashing cameras and The Burrow’s stereo system blasting “Hail to the Chief.”
Obama threw up Owl Fingers, and thanked Maher for teaching him about burrowing owls. Maher said he hadn’t expected to speak with the president, but took advantage of the opportunity anyway.
“I saw that he spoke at UM and flashed their sign, so I wanted to make sure he knew about Owl Fingers,” Maher said. “Then he asked ‘Why owls?’ So I explained.”
When Obama concluded his 34-minute speech to The Burrow crowd of 3,500, FAU students appeared enthusiastic.
“When I won the lottery, I literally felt like I won the lottery,” graduate student Vanessa Rossel said. “It’s a huge honor that not many people are able to experience in their lifetime. To be able to be a student at FAU and have this opportunity to get to see the president in my neighborhood, basically, I feel very fortunate.”
Trevor Owens could not hold in his emotions, either. Owens, a senior English major, was fired up, claiming that it’s time for major change in America and that Obama is the man for the job.
“It was very special,” he said. “He’s our first black president. He’s the president that I’ve been able to connect with the most, as an African-American man myself. As a working student, I feel the lash of all the things he’s speaking about. I see the gas prices rising, I’m applying for jobs and I can’t get one, even when I am qualified, so I feel the pain.”
Boca campus Gov. Ryan Ebanks, however, was feeling more elation than pain, as he hopped up and down on the stairs in the Student Union remarking, “He touched my hand!”