On Thursday morning, several students posted pictures to Facebook of the coveted tickets they secured after waiting in line for hours to attend President Barack Obama’s speech the following day. One student, however, was not able to share her excitement to see the president with anyone.
On Wednesday morning, LSA sophomore Christina Beckman received a phone call from the University’s Office of Public Affairs, where she holds a work-study position. After picking up the phone, she was informed that she was appointed by Kelly Cunningham, the University Director of Public Affairs, to introduce Obama at Al Glick Field House later that week.
Beckman said she was not allowed to reveal the news to anyone beside her parents.
“It was such a hard thing to keep in,” Beckman said. “When I’m so nervous and excited, I almost needed someone there to calm me down … It was definitely the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep in my life.”
Beckman was able to provide input in her introduction, which had to be approved by White House officials before the event. Before she took the stage in front of the crowd of 4,000 and a national television audience, Beckman said her nerves from the days leading up to the event subsided.
“On the day of Friday I was calm, and I knew I wanted to do really well representing my school and my community,” Beckman said. “ … It’s definitely not an experience you can prepare for.”
In her speech before Obama’s address on increasing college affordability, Beckman discussed her own struggles to pay for college through taking out loans and participating in a work-study program.
“A lot of students go the distance to be able to pay for college, especially to go to school at U of M, and it’s something that I’m willing to do to make the investment in my future,” Beckman said. “I think (Obama) spoke very generally about how tuition could be lowered, and I think a lot of students can relate to that.”
According to plan, Beckman was to leave the stage after introducing Obama, but the president surprised her with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek before her exit.
“(The kiss on the cheek) was incredible,” Beckman said. “I wasn’t expecting that, but it was great, obviously … I think forever, that will be my good side.”
Before taking the stage, Beckman also had the opportunity to meet the president. She said Obama joked about not wearing maize and blue and gave her words of encouragement.
“He pulled me aside to ask me about what I was studying … and how I liked school and how it’s going,” Beckman said. “He was very down to earth … and he told me that he could tell I was going to do a good job, and then he told me, ‘I’ll see you up there.’”
Central Student Government President DeAndree Watson spoke before Beckman on Friday and described the experience as an “honor.” In his speech, Watson discussed the importance of government aid in helping fund higher education, sharing his experience as a student in the Detroit Public School system dreaming of attending the University.
“I really appreciated the opportunity, and I was glad I could do it,” Watson said.
Watson said the central message of Obama’s speech was his commitment to encouraging the state to make higher education a greater priority, something he said CSG will help students aim to do as well. He added that University Provost Philip Hanlon plans to meet with CSG in the future to discuss the construction of the University’s budget and the effect state and federal funding have on tuition costs.
“I’m really excited to see that (Obama’s) committed to … pushing the state to make higher education a priority,” Watson said. “We really need to push the state legislature to provide more funding for education, so what (CSG is) going to do is provide the information that students need … to start contacting their state legislatures.”
Watson added: “All of those things are going to happen soon because we think it’s really important for students to have their voices heard as well.”