Presidential speech attendees reflect on the experience

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(Photo by NICOLE COOKE, digitalBURG) UCM President Charles Ambrose speaks with Missouri Innovation Campus student Brian Green, who introduced President Barack Obama Wednesday, during the post-speech community event in the Elliott Union.

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(Photo by NICOLE COOKE, digitalBURG) UCM President Charles Ambrose speaks with Missouri Innovation Campus student Brian Green, who introduced President Barack Obama Wednesday, during the post-speech community event in the Elliott Union.
(Photo by NICOLE COOKE, digitalBURG) UCM President Charles Ambrose speaks with Missouri Innovation Campus student Brian Green, who introduced President Barack Obama Wednesday, during the post-speech community event in the Elliott Union.

By NICOLE COOKE
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – After a week of preparation, the big event was finally here, and it started early. For some people anyway.
Tim and Dollie Jackson wanted to get the best spot possible for the president’s speech so their two young children could have a good view. For the Jackson’s, that meant arriving at the University of Central Missouri at 5 a.m., making them first in line to enter the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Dollie barely received tickets on Monday, so she didn’t want to press her luck again.
“I got lucky on getting tickets. I showed up at the very end,” she said. “After that, I decided I didn’t want to risk it today.”
The couple came prepared with lawn chairs and an umbrella to shade them from the hot sun. Even though they had to wait almost 12 hours to see President Barack Obama, they thought it was worth it.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Tim said. “Especially for our kids. They may never get this chance again.”
For others, their day didn’t start so early, but it ended pretty lucky.
Warrensburg resident Sue Engelmann and her friends arrived at UCM around 1:30 p.m., just before the doors opened. However, they managed to land themselves in the second row of attendees. But Engelmann’s luck didn’t end there. She also got to shake hands with the big man himself.
“It was exciting; it was thrilling,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Her favorite part of Obama’s speech was hearing him talk about the Missouri Innovation Campus.
The MIC initiative is a way to reduce student debt and the time it takes to earn a college degree by allowing students to begin before they even graduate high school. The initiative combines business partners, local school districts and college sponsors to create opportunities for students they might not have otherwise.
Don Nissanka, one of the two men who had the original idea for the MIC and pitched it to UCM President Charles Ambrose, was at the speech. Being in attendance meant hearing praise for the program he helped create.
“It was an idea, a back of a napkin idea. We collaborated, put together the curriculum, and we ended up developing the structure of it, and it got national recognition,” he said. “For Obama to be here for the small, simple idea that UCM created jointly with partners like our company, it’s a huge, huge plus. It’s a historic day for the university, but I also think it’s a historic day for the state of Missouri to have a sitting president attend a university like UCM.”
Nissanka is president and CEO of Exergonix, a renewable energy business in Lee’s Summit, Mo., that is one of the MIC partners. Nissanka said Exergonix was intended to be the anchor company for the campus, and they are working to develop the campus “to a level where it is a little more than a small campus isolated in Lee’s Summit.”
Nissanka had the chance to meet Obama once the speech was over.
“I had the chance to take a picture with the president and meet him in person. I’m just thrilled,” he said. “I’m an alumni of UCM, and a distinguished alumni of UCM. For him to be on this campus and for me to be a part of it, is just so exciting.”
He said he felt the attention the MIC gained from the president’s speech will hopefully help it grow not only in state, but grow nationally.
Lee’s Summit North graduate Kevin Schulmeister decided to be a MIC student because it gives him an accelerated education. The cost was pretty convincing as well.
He has spent his summer as a paid intern with Cerner, working with internal networks on the company’s various campuses. Today he spent his time with his fellow MIC students listening to Obama’s speech, followed by a rare privilege – meeting the president of the United States.
One MIC student had an even bigger opportunity than the rest. Senior Brian Green gave a short speech about the MIC and then introduced Obama, which he said was “an honor and a humbling experience.” That introduction was followed by a handshake, and a hug.
“I shook his hand like three times today and I’m still trying to get over that,” Green said. “I wasn’t expecting a hug. Maybe a fist bump or handshake, but it was pretty cool. It’s not everyday you get to do that.”
MIC students weren’t the only students in attendance. Incoming UCM freshmen attending the IMPACT retreat spent their afternoon in the recreation center for the speech, and their seats were significantly better than everyone else’s – directly behind Obama.
“(Being on stage was) really cool because not everyone has the chance to see Obama, let alone stand behind him and be shown on TV while he was talking,” said IMPACT student John Fiorello. “It’s really insane. That’s the word I have for it.”
Before Obama shook Engelmann’s hand, and before Green introduced him, the event started with the pledge of allegiance, which was started by UCM senior and UCM Student Government Association President Christina Parle. She attended the rehearsal the night before, and had been going over the pledge a lot, just to brush up. Even with all her practice, she said it was the “most nerve-wracking thing ever in the entire world.”
Parle’s favorite quote from Obama’s speech was when he said, “And if we don’t invest in American education, then we’re going to put our kids, our workers, our countries, our businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Because if you think it’s — if you think education is expensive, you should see how much ignorance is going to cost in the 21st century. It’s going to be expensive.”
“We’re in a deadlock in Congress. You can’t blame Congress and you can’t blame the president. I think the blame has to be shared,” she said. “I think that’s an issue that we’re seeing. The blame is being put on the president and I think he made it very clear today that it’s not just his fault. It’s the fault of a deadlock.”
Parle also was among the few lucky attendees who got to shake Obama’s hand. The man next to her told Obama he had some ideas, and Obama gladly listened. Parle said it was great to see a real interaction, rather than a president that would’ve brushed off the man’s ideas.
“Today’s events can’t be put into words,” Parle said. “I can tell you a million times that today was amazing and awesome, but those words can’t even begin to encapsulate what today felt like or meant to me.”
Once the speech was over and Obama had left the stage to meet MIC students, Warrensburg Mayor Charlie Rutt stayed at the recreation center a little longer, talking with politicians and residents.
“The chance for many being able to be near the president of the United States is probably pretty small. It’s a special moment,” he said. “Did I expect to be able to experience this in my lifetime? No, but it’s been a treat, a pleasure, an honor to have him in our community and on our campus.”
Rutt also understood the significance of Obama’s presence in Warrensburg, not just as a mayor, but also as a regular citizen.
“We’re talking about not only the significance of Obama being in Warrensburg, but also the University of Central Missouri. We know what a good community we are. When we prosper, the university prospers and vice versa,” he said. “The greatest thing that has happened is we are being recognized as a community of education and businesses for doing great things and getting that message out to a larger audience. It’s a big thing for Obama to be here.”