Obama Shows Texas Spirit, Commitment to Education in UT Speech
A firsthand report from McCombs staffer Hillary Berquist, who snagged one of the 50 tickets made available to McCombs School faculty and staff.
President Barack Obama spoke to a packed audience in Gregory Gym yesterday about the economy, higher education and, of course, Longhorn football. Campus is usually pretty quiet during the summer, but yesterday the atmosphere was buzzing as thousands braved the August heat and worse-than-usual traffic to hear the president speak.
The line to get in was, not surprisingly, huge, but things ran smoothly. The hour and a half I waited in line was mostly shaded, and there were water stops along the way. As I got closer to Gregory, I could see all the news vans lined up and secret service agents walking around. It looked like a few of the secret service guys were wearing burnt orange ties, either by accident or on purpose; I have decided to believe it was on purpose. Walking into the entrance of Gregory, we were greeted by security and metal detectors. Cameras and cell phones were allowed, even encouraged. We were told to turn them on, because this "isn't an airplane, folks." Inside, there was a sea of burnt orange, and as we waited one side of the gym started a resounding "Texas!" chant with the rest of the crowd responding, "Fight!"
The entire place filled with cheers when three students came out to lead the invocation, Pledge of Allegiance and Star-Spangled Banner. An education policy graduate student was announced as a presenter, though the crowd was so loud, the announcer was barely audible. She concluded with, "And now, I'd like to present the President..." and that was about all I heard as the room exploded with cheering, claps and even people jumping up and down. President Obama walked out flashing the Hook 'Em Horns sign to the audience. He reminisced about an earlier trip to Austin when he toured the football stadium with football coach Mack Brown and former quarterback Colt McCoy.
I had been taking so many photos and looking through the lens that when I finally put the camera down, it hit me. The president was right there, and I could see and hear him so clearly. It was the perfect setting to listen to him talk about his goals for higher education, an issue so important to most of the people in the audience. "Education is the economic issue of our time," said Obama, adding that a world-class education system is a prerequisite for prosperity. He called for lowering the cost of higher education and simplifying paperwork. "You should not have to have a Ph.D. to apply for financial aid," he said, a line that seemed to resonate with anyone in the audience who had attempted to complete a FAFSA form.
Obama wrapped up his speech by arguing that access to top-notch education will create an America "where each of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from, can reach for our dreams and make of our lives what we will." With that, he turned to the football team and wished them good luck this season. The team responded with more Hook 'Em Horns, and another round of "Texas Fight!" sprung up as the president shook hands with the crowd and made his way out of the building.