Michelle Obama makes way to Miami, impacts UM students crowd at grassroots rally

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the pubic about the upcoming election. Cayla Nimmo // Photo Editor

First lady Michelle Obama spoke to nearly 2,900 people at Barbara Goleman Senior High in Miami Lakes on Tuesday, at an event meant to garner support from local residents and campaign volunteers.

Local campaign coordinators selected volunteers to sit onstage during the first lady’s remarks. Four University of Miami students were among those chosen to sit near the first lady while she addressed the crowd.

Twenty-year-old Stephanie Smart, who will be a senior at UM at the start of the fall semester, was one of the four students selected. As a supporter of the campaign, she held up signs and helped motivate the crowd at the event.

“I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and those are the types of moments worth living for,” said Smart, who is originally from Wallingford, Conn. “Figures, like Michelle Obama, are inspiring, and to not take an opportunity to get closer to one of those figures denies you the ability to expand your mindset on life.”

The first lady visited South Florida to garner support from the community. Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is expected to play a major role in this year’s presidential election. According to several HuffPost pollster charts and analyses, Florida does not have a clear choice for a presidential candidate. Florida, along with states including North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio, are considered “tossup” states, according the huffingtonpost.com’s electoral map.

“Florida is an excellent position to give one candidate a tremendous advantage throughout the rest of the process,” political science professor Gregory Koger said to The Miami Hurricane in an interview conducted earlier this year.

Twenty-year-old Jonathan Borge, who will be a senior in the fall at UM, attended high school at Barbara Goleman Senior High, and lives in Miami Lakes.

“I think her visit was reflective of the goals of both the Obama administration and Romney campaign. They’re hoping to earn middle class votes and Miami Lakes is a perfect place to do so. Yes, it’s near one of the country’s largest metropolises but it’s a relatively small town with mostly families,” said Borge, who follows local politics and is majoring in journalism.

Twenty-year-old Mike Piacentino, a student at UM studying public relations and political science, also attended the event. He expressed his thoughts on the president’s campaign strategy, and felt the first lady’s visit to Florida was important for campaign success.

“I think having the first lady make a speech in a swing state like Florida is important,” said Piacentino, who is originally from Toms River, N.J. “The President has spoken in Florida numerous times and on a variety of topics, but Michelle is able to connect with voters on a more intimate and personal nature.”

Piacentino attended the event, and though he was not one of the students selected to go onstage, he felt the first lady’s speech appealed to the crowd’s emotions.

“I thought Michelle Obama spoke from the heart,” Piacentino said. “Naturally, women are more emotional and voters typically look to the first lady to show that side of the President and the first family. Especially during this election where Romney has been criticized for not being able to connect with the average American, Michelle Obama’s speech had just that goal in mind. She connected with every person in the room on a more emotional level and very rarely talked about policy.”

During her address, the first lady motivated the grassroots rally by repeating the campaign’s message and encouraging the crowd to “roll up your sleeves and get involved.”

She addressed the importance of education, and memories of college tuition debts she and the President shared during the early years of their marriage.

“When it comes to education, you can tell people that Barack knows what it’s like to be drowning in student debt,” she said. “See, remind them – back when we started out, he and I, together, and we were trying to build our life together when we first got married, our combined student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage. And that’s why Barack fought so hard to prevent student loan interest rates from increasing. That’s why he doubled – doubled – Pell Grants, helping 4 million more students afford the education they need for the jobs of the future.”

Students like Piacentino, and 20-year-old Meera Nagarsheth, who will be a junior at UM in the fall, found those remarks particularly significant.

“These topics are ones that many Americans would not like to hear from the most powerful man in the world,” Piacentino said.

Nagarsheth appreciated the feelings the message evoked in the crowd.

“I thought that she was very empowering in the way she spoke,” said Nagarsheth, originally from Jensen Beach, Fla., and of Indian descent. “She made her audience feel part of Obama’s journey to the re-election. She made me feel like I could too be an agent of change in this world.”

The first lady also expressed the importance of having the opportunity to attain the American dream.

“That’s what we’re fighting for – that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids,” she said.

Nineteen-year-old Jordan Lewis, who will be a junior at UM and is majoring in political science, works as a campaign volunteer. He helped coordinate yesterday’s event, and also volunteered during President Obama’s visit to the Coral Gables campus. This visit on Feb. 23 was targeted at motivating the country to support the development of American-made energy in an effort to decrease dependence on foreign oil.

At campaign events, Lewis’s tasks include “making sure the event goes smoothly, making sure guests are happy and finding a way to best utilize their skills on the campaign.”

In the past, he has helped register new voters and run phone bank operations. He believes the first lady’s visit to Florida was important.

“I think that Michelle Obama will help the President in Florida, as she is very popular, even among those who dislike the President,” said Lewis, who is also the President of College Democrats at UM and currently lives in Boca Raton. “The race for the Presidency will be a dog fight. If President Obama wins Florida, he essentially clinches the Presidency.”

According to an article reported by The Miami Herald, the first lady also stopped to greet Miami mom bloggers in an event live streamed online. She then left to Orlando, where she spoke at a similar volunteer grassroots rally and met a crowd of 2,200 at the University of Central Florida.

She ended her address at Barbara Goleman Senior High by asking the crowd if “they were all in.”

She also expressed the importance of having Florida’s support throughout this election.

“Are you rolling-up-your-sleeves kind of in?  Are you finding-one-more-person kind of in?  Are you ready-to-multiply-yourselves kind of in?  Keep-knocking-on-those-doors kind of in?  Keep-registering-those-voters kind of in?” the first lady said. “Because I’m in. I’m so way in. I’m so fired up … Get it done in Florida. Get this state done. We need you.”