Published August 21, 2013
Obama-mania hit the UB campus in an unmistakably dramatic form Tuesday as more than 1,500 excited but patient and well-mannered ticket-seekers lined up for the chance of being part of what they called a “slice of history” — witnessing the first time a sitting U.S. president would speak on campus in more than 150 years.
Two colorful, winding lines of determined but collegial people gave the UB campus an indisputable energy and buzz.
The larger line began at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday outside the doors of Alumni Arena as Denise Camarre and her 18-year-old son took the pole position among members of the public hoping to secure a ticket to President Barack Obama’s Thursday morning speech, which is expected to underscore the need for quality, affordable higher education.
A few hundred yards away, another line of hundreds assembled Tuesday afternoon inside UB’s Student Union, stretching up the hill on Putnam Way, this time consisting of students, staff and UB faculty. All were winners of an online ticket lottery held the previous day reserved for UB personnel.
Camarre and her son were the first to flock to campus for the chance to be a part of what Camarre called “a historic event.”
“I’m a little tired,” Camarre said, as she dozed in her lawn chair at the entrance of Alumni Arena, two hours before officials began handing out tickets and 14 hours after arriving on campus. “But I am very grateful I will be able to sit in the same room as Barack Obama. I may never see another sitting president again.”
Camarre and her son, Jordan, a senior and class president at Newfane High School, were at the forefront of what UB officials estimated were well over 1,000 hopefuls who lined up in the 85-degree heat for the first-come, first-served line reserved for the community. By noon, the line started to loop down Coventry Road to Augspurger Road around the back of Alumni Arena as far as the parking lot adjacent to the tennis courts as hundreds of others arrived for a chance to see Obama address Alumni Arena.
The diverse crowd waited in folding chairs, under sun umbrellas, eating pizza and subs, talking on cellphones and reading books, and chatting with others who waited for hours with them and who shared the same passion for the chance at snagging what was then an undisclosed number of tickets.
"They are excited to be here, totally appreciative of the opportunity and incredibly patient,” said Dennis Black, UB’s vice president for University Life and Services, who was among officials handing out bottles of water and hundreds of granola bars to visitors beginning late in the morning.
“We talk about UB serving the community all the time, and today we are seeing that in the ticket line,” said Black, who was assisted by Barbara J. Ricotta, associate vice president and dean of students, and Jeff Brady, director of campus dining. “UB is serving as the site of a major community event. We are excited to serve in that role and people are excited to be on campus.”
Some ticket-seekers used their time creatively. Jackie Stanley and Miranda Rosati, both recent UB graduates, sat a few spaces back from Camarre near the entrance of the arena guarding a box of hundreds of envelopes they had labeled and stuffed with fliers from their company, HeinOnline. The two had been outside arena doors since 7:45 a.m. and had passed some of the time fulfilling office duties and munching on snacks they received from a family in front of them.
“It’s a very friendly crowd,” said Stanley. “There’s no negativity. It’s a great vibe.
“We really wanted to see the president speak,” she said. “It’s once in a lifetime. And our boss let us go.”
The hundreds of UB ticket lottery winners were just as enthusiastic, talking, texting and hydrating as they waited inside and outside the Student Union.
“I was at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, and it was such a historic moment in history,” says Letitia Thomas-Rogers, assistant vice provost and director of UB’s Daniel Acker Scholars and STEM Programs. “It was a historic moment for all Americans, but for African-Americans, it was special. To be here, and be that close to him again is a thrill.”
“Seeing Obama is important to me because he is a very inspirational speaker,” said Jarrett Coppin, doctoral candidate in the UB chemistry department. “I want to know what his thoughts are on the future of education in this country, and I’m interested in what he plans to do to keep us at the forefront of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Those are the things I feel are important, what will move this country forward and keep us on par with other nations.”
“I’m excited because it is history in the making,” said Brittany Sager, a student in UB’s Graduate School of Education concentrating on teaching English. “I’ve never seen a sitting president, and the opportunity that UB has to have him come here is a unique opportunity. I’m also excited to hear what he has to say about education in general, since it’s what I’m going into and it’s a rough market out there right now.
“So I’m interested in hearing what he has to say about the education market and what we’re doing to help our students achieve.”
For many if not most of the people outside Alumni Arena, their patience and intensity were rewarded. At precisely 5 p.m., the doors opened, and those at the front of the line went inside. Within moments, they came out with what they had waited for.
“It feels awesome,” said Nancy Hourigan, who emerged from Alumni Arena lobby holding her ticket high and letting out a triumphant yell. “It’s a momentous event in our lives.”