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Waiting for the president

Ticket-holders stood in a mile-long line for the chance to see Obama

Queue of people wating to see President Obama

The line to see President Barack Obama stretched across North Campus on Thursday morning. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published August 22, 2013

It’s exciting because we are the students that the president plans to talk about.
Laura Gagliano , recent graduate
Williamsville East High School

David Carlone knew there would be a line to see President Barack Obama speak at UB Thursday.

What he didn’t anticipate was its length – about a mile long, stretching west from Alumni Arena to the Student Union down Putnam Way past Capen Hall. It then snaked around the Natural Sciences Complex and continued east to Capen’s other side, and all the way back to Park Hall.

“I was kind of hoping there’d be a separate student entrance,” Carlone, a master’s student in geology, said half-jokingly at the end of the queue.

No such luck. But the line moved forward, allowing 7,200 students, faculty, staff and community members into Alumni Arena to see the first sitting U.S. president speak at UB since Millard Fillmore in 1853.

Despite the wait, which lasted as long as four hours for some people, the atmosphere was mostly calm and friendly. Friends brought each other refreshments while others snapped pictures or texted on smartphones. The crowd moved past souvenir hawkers, protesters, television cameras, security details (including U.S. Secret Service agents) and student volunteers wearing lime green shirts.

Here’s a 60-minute snapshot of the experience.

8:30 a.m.

Jessica Marshall (l) and Laura Gagliano (r), both of Williamsville

Jessica Marshall (left) and Laura Gagliano, both of Williamsville

Laura Gagliano and Jessica Marshall, both recent graduates of Williamsville East High School, are in front of Alumni Arena. Both waited seven hours at UB on Tuesday to secure general admission tickets to the event.

“It’s exciting because we are the students that the president plans to talk about,” says Gagliano, who plans to study communications this fall at John Carroll University.

Marshall, who will attend Cooper Union in Manhattan, says they’ve met some “great people” waiting in line this week.

8:45 a.m.

Marion Grace of Williamsville

Marion Grace of Williamsville

Marion Grace of Williamsville is also in front of Alumni Arena. She voted for Obama, volunteered for his campaign, donated money toward it and attended his inauguration in Washington D.C. Suffice to say, she is a fan.

Her involvement in politics began in the early 1970s when she resided in California. Asked what Thursday’s event meant to her, she replies, “It’s special. He’s the greatest president. He really represents the people of this country and the people of this world.”

Event organizers begin to allow people inside Alumni Arena.

8:55 a.m.

Max Mertel, 3rd year graduate student at UB

Max Mertel, UB communication graduate student

Max Mertel, originally from the Rochester area, is a graduate student in communication at UB. Despite waiting in line since 6:45 a.m., he is in good spirits outside the Center for the Arts.

“I’m feeling comfortable. I’m feeling excited. It’s a good atmosphere and a good crowd,” he says as people move steadily toward Alumni Arena.

9:05 a.m.

Neil Singh, exercise science major, and Manish Kulkarni, MBA student

Neil Singh, exercise science major, and Manish Kulkarni, MBA student

Neil Singh and Manish Kulkarni, both from India, have been waiting almost as long as Mertel. They are near Slee Hall, not far from a few dozen protestors who are speaking out against hydro-fracking, the guilty verdict of soldier Bradley Manning and other issues.

Kulkarni, an MBA student, says he is concerned about the rising cost of higher education. He says he hopes Obama can work with Congress to secure and promote programs that help the middle class.

Neither Kulkarni nor Singh has ever seen Obama in person.

9:10 a.m.

Jesse Mallen, computer engineering student

Jesse Mallen, UB computer engineering student

Jesse Mallen is standing outside The Commons. Having already earned an English degree from UB, he is now working toward a degree in computer science.

He says he hopes that Obama will address matters of privacy, such as the recently disclosed information that the National Security Agency has been conducting surveillance of U.S. citizens.

9:20 a.m.

Kevin Lin: chemical engineering PHD candidate

Kevin Lin, UB chemical engineering PhD candidate

Standing on the sidewalk outside of Capen Hall, Kevin Lin says he is excited to see Obama. He is a doctoral candidate in UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The crowd grows quiet, as the line is moving slower.

9:30 a.m.

David Carlone, UB geology graduate student

Carlone, the geology master’s student, has just stepped into the line, which snakes around the academic spine and ends between Park and O’Brian halls. Despite the long wait ahead of him, this is an opportunity that he can’t pass up.

“I’d like to be able to tell people that I saw Obama,” he said.

The crowd eventually made its way into Alumni Arena. People roared as Obama, shown on the video screen above the basketball floor, stepped out of Air Force One at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

As the audience waited for the president, jazz music filled lulls between the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem and remarks from UB President Satish K. Tripathi, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and UB student Silvana D’Ettorre, who introduced the president.

READER COMMENT

Kudos to the Special Events staff for the organization of this auspicious occasion. From the distribution of the tickets to the flow of the crowd in and out of the arena, the staff had been prepared to run the event smoothly. 

The way the event was run was almost as impressive as having President Obama speak to UB's 7,000-plus audience.

This was a truly memorable experience from start to finish.

Anne Ferrara