Monday marked the 212th President’s Day – and just this week, some students at the University of Miami will have seen two presidents in their own backyard.
“It’s a civic lesson every time a president comes to campus,” UM President Donna E. Shalala said.
On Monday, former President Bill Clinton paid a visit to Shalala’s U.S. health care crisis class, which has approximately 225 students enrolled, according to myUM. Shalala was the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services during Clinton’s administration.
Clinton, whose administration was responsible for passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, spoke about many topics in the field, including his opinion on the future of the health care system.
“I went up to President Shalala after Cornel West to say hi to her, and to tell her that I didn’t pay attention in her class because I was too busy staring at President Clinton,” junior Alejandra Perez said. “I also thanked her and told her I would copy my friend’s notes.”
Senior Melody Baez, also enrolled in Shalala’s class, was so excited to see Clinton teaching her class that she couldn’t wait to share the news.
“It was such a great experience, as soon as I saw him I texted my sister and told her ‘Bill Clinton is teaching my class, come over,’” Melody said.
Her twin sister Melanie, who is not enrolled in the class, took a seat with Melody.
“There’s a lot of kids in the class, so they didn’t notice. I sat in the back,” Melanie said. “We got a picture with him after; he was really nice.”
While Clinton made his surprise visit, the university sent out an email Monday afternoon announcing that Obama would be visiting the Coral Gables campus for a speech Thursday afternoon.
Student hype about the presidential visits resulted in more than 900 people waiting in line. Some started lining up outside the University Center’s Ticketmaster window around 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, not too long after the announcement was made. When the box office opened Wednesday morning, those who were in line by 6:30 a.m. definitely received a ticket, said Joshua Brandfon, the associate director of student activities.
Brandfon said there is currently a waitlist for tickets with more than 100 students signed up.
“We begged for every ticket we could get,” Shalala said.
Other students are not as enthusiastic.
Although he has no complaints about Obama’s administration, sophomore Adrian Lugo thinks it will be easier to watch his speech online.
“Honestly, I think that most people are uninformed about politics and most of them are there because Obama’s a celebrity,” he said.
Obama will speak at the BankUnited Center’s Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon. The event, which is standing room only, is solely open to UM students.
The decision to host the event in the Fieldhouse and to limit the attendees to students was made by the White House, which wanted to keep the event small. Shalala said she tried to convince Obama and the White House to host the event in the BankUnited Center.
Some faculty and staff members, like classics lecturer Scott Farrington, think that not being able to attend is “disappointing.”
Others, however, disagree.
“Personally, I think this is a good idea,” said Louise Davidson-Schmich, a professor of political science. “As an older faculty member I’ve had many opportunities to see presidents speak and am happy to give priority to students who’ve not yet had the chance to see a president in person.”
Davidson-Schmich was able to attend Obama’s previous appearance at the university in 2008 during his first campaign for presidency.
On Thursday, Obama will be speaking about the United States’ energy policy, according to James Tien, dean of UM’s College of Engineering. Before his speech, the president will receive a tour of the engineering school, as well as a demo of an in-house project focused on energy efficiency.
The purpose of the project, called the Industrial Assessment Center, is to monitor and analyze local businesses’ energy usage. In its 13 years of existence, the Industrial Assessment Center has given recommendations to more than 200 South Florida corporations about how they can increase energy efficiency. The project is federally funded and is led by CoE Professor Shihab Asfour.
“President Obama’s interested in energy efficiency and making this country less dependent on oil from outside the country in particular,” Shalala said.
Tien also said that the Industrial Assessment Center could serve as an inspiration for Obama’s federal energy policy.
As Obama tours the CoE’s facilities, the building and the surrounding area will be on lockdown. Only a handful of people will be allowed in the building while the president is there, Tien said.
Following the tour, Obama will make his speech at the Fieldhouse.
With Obama campaigning for reelection, the president will be pushing forward with his campaign in Florida by attending fundraisers this week in South Florida seeking donations and electoral votes. According to The Miami Herald, he will be attending a fundraiser at the Biltmore Hotel and at the home of Chris Korge, a fundraiser for the Democrat party. Afterward, Obama will fly to Orlando for another fundraising dinner.
Shalala expects that the Republican presidential candidate will make a visit to campus some time after the nominating convention.
“Our standard procedure is to invite all the candidates,” she said.
Travel around the university on Thursday will be difficult because typically many streets are closed off while the president’s motorcade is in the area. Also, several yellow zone parking lots will be closed because of the event. On Thursday, yellow parking permit holders will be allowed to park in the green zone, including the Ponce Garage and the lots 42 and 43 under the Metrorail station across from Alex Rodriguez Park.
Didn’t get a ticket to President Obama’s speech? Visit whitehouse.gov/live or umtv.miami.edu on Thursday to watch Obama’s remarks live.