Last Friday, I braved the Michigan winter (although to be honest, it has been a mild one) a total of 10 hours for an opportunity to see President Barack Obama speak at the University of Michigan campus for about 20 minutes.
I joined thousands of students and Michigan residents, some of whom had camped out for the night, outside the Michigan Union in the wee hours of Thursday morning to get a ticket. With only 3,000 tickets available and a strongly liberal population in Ann Arbor that far outnumbers that, I wasn’t the only one worried about getting a ticket. But the early morning rise (and missing my morning class) paid off and I set off, the proud holder of a ticket to see the President.
Friday morning, all 3,000 of us trooped down to Al Glick Field House, where the recent Sugar Bowl champions — the Michigan football team — practices. The line wrapped around the field behind the field house three times and the people at the front of the line said they had been there since 4 a.m. At 7 a.m. the doors opened and an hour later I was inside, where some of the Michigan Marching Band members were playing. From there we were herded into this bull pen-type area that definitely could not hold 3,000 people, and we began to wait. Slowly the field house filled up, with important figures like Michigan senators and representatives sitting in a box at the front and various student leaders from across campus on bleachers behind the podium.
The speech was technically scheduled for 9:35 a.m. but that time came and went. The people around me joked about the president following Michigan time — that is starting everything 10 minutes after it is scheduled — but 9:45 came and went, accompanied with at least the seventh replay of the same five-song CD. Around then a cheer went up and as excited as we were to see the President, it was just Denard Robinson, our star quarterback, entering the VIP box.
Finally at just around 10, President Obama took the podium. He started with some easy crowd pleasers — an obligatory “Go Blue!” and comments about the excellence of our football team and how excited he was to meet Denard Robinson. The speech meanwhile, was a mix of political positions and concrete ideas and seemed to be well-received. Of course, it’s easy to make the crowd cheer when you are talking about the value of education to a bunch of college students or the importance of the auto industry in Metro Detroit.
Obama talked about the importance of America’s future and what he wants it to look like, stressing the necessity of having a middle class and opportunities for everyone. High on Obama’s priority list was education, as he asserted that education — whether a two or four-year degree — shouldn’t be a luxury or privilege, but rather a right for all Americans. He focused on the necessity of making college affordable for students and outlined some ways to accomplish this. First, all students should write to their senators and representatives asking them to oppose a bill that will double interest rates for student loans. He also announced two plans — the Race to the Top which is a contest among states for highest financial support of higher education, with the winning state getting federal funding, and a plan to help colleges that work on keeping costs low for students. He also urged the audience to oppose tax breaks for the wealthy, who can most afford to pay, because that costs the government money that could be spent on other things like a strong military and supporting higher education.
While the plans themselves may not be implemented, the sentiment behind them is valid, especially in Michigan, where the state government recent slashed funding to higher education. As President Obama said, a college education has more than doubled in expense during our lifetimes and that’s not a sustainable trend. Now more than ever, people need a college education for the good of the country as a whole. Federal and state governments should work together to make sure the financial burden of education isn’t crippling. Education should be a non-partisan topic that all people can agree on regardless of personal ideology. Like President Obama said, education should be a right not a privilege.