WARRENSBURG — An inspired and excited crowd poured out of the recreation center at the University of Central Missouri after President Barack Obama delivered a speech Wednesday.
Attendees waited an hour longer than expected for a speech that lasted about half an hour. A lot of people in the crowd were fanning themselves because of the warm temperature in the auditorium. The speech was scheduled to begin at 4:05 p.m., but it did not start until 5:07 p.m. The room erupted in cheers when Obama jogged in and hands shot in the air holding phones and cameras in an attempt to capture his entrance.
At least three people fainted in the heat. Presidential staff quickly responded with water and walked people to less crowded areas.
“I know it’s hot,” Obama said as he stepped to the podium. “That’s why I took off my jacket. If you’ve still got yours on, feel free to take it off.”
Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill, celebrating her 60th birthday, were also in attendance. When McCaskill arrived, some of the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”
Even before the arrival of the president, the atmosphere in the auditorium was buzzing with excitement. Hours before his entrance, security officials started closing the area around the Student Recreation and Wellness Center about 11 a.m., at which time the line to enter the venue already consisted of more than 100 people.
Secret Service agents in dark suits and polka dot ties and local police officers were posted around campus to maintain security.
To enter the building, everyone had to go through airport-like security. Guards checked individuals with hand-held wand detectors as sniffer dogs went through bags.
There were several eruptions of applause while waiting for Obama's arrival, and students on stage did the wave a couple of times. When the official seal was placed on the podium about 4:4o p.m., the anticipation in the room built. Eyes were fixed on the stage and chatter grew silent, but the president still didn't walk on stage for another 30 minutes.
A focus on education
After he arrived and dispensed of the usual presidential thank yous, Obama’s speech focused on the American dream, building the middle class and improving higher education.
"If you think education is expensive, you should see how expensive ignorance is in the 21st century," the president said.
Obama outlined four steps to improving education in the country. The first step was to make “high quality preschool education available to every 4-year-old.” This was followed by shouts of agreement from the crowd toward the back of the room.
Rethinking high schools and addressing the increasing cost of higher education was another aspect of reform that Obama addressed. He also said he wants to upgrade the technology in schools across the country.
Heidi Moore, 37, said that as a teacher and mother, making technology readily available in schools is important to her.
Moore, a mother of three, is an elementary teacher at Warrensburg's Maple Grove Elementary School and came to the event to give her children a chance to hear a sitting president speak.
Obama applauded the University of Central Missouri's efforts to provide real-world job experience to high school students, wanting colleges to “take a look at what is going on here,” he said.
He loved the idea of students graduating debt-free because of the collaborative efforts of the university, Lee's Summit R-7 School District and Metropolitan Community College.
“It meant a lot to have the program recognized nationally and by our president,” Brian Green, who introduced the president, said.
The collaboration, named the Missouri Innovation Campus, aims to help high school students graduate with an associate’s degree and internship experience. The program was one of the reasons Obama said he chose Warrensburg as the location for his speech.
Green, 17, a student of the Missouri Innovation Campus, introduced the president, an opportunity he said he was honored to have. Green was informed Monday night and felt rushed with the time constraints to prepare his speech. But speech writers from both the University of Central Missouri and the White House helped him construct it.
Green is set to graduate in 2014 with an associate degree. In addition to interning this summer, Green is taking two college classes and runs cross-country.
Obama’s emphasis on anyone being able to achieve the American Dream if they worked hard especially resonated with two University of Central Missouri students: Madan Gopal Kesavabhatla and Swetha Kesavabhatla.
As someone who is working to make his American dream a reality, Madan said, “People can come from anywhere and make it here in America.”
Linda Angweye, 62, came into the event to see what the president had to say and was appreciative of him “trying to mend things” amidst a contentious political environment in Washington.
“Honestly, he had a lot on his plate going in, but he’s trying to do everything he can for the people,” she said.
Sarah Kramer, an incoming University of Central Missouri freshman, was one of about 80 students standing behind the president’s podium while he spoke and considered the opportunity to be “jaw-dropping.”
“He hit a lot of positive points and also brought up issues he said he was going to work on,” she said.
Dale Stringer, 47, thought the president’s speech was “very politically oriented to get the Congress to work together.”
“I agreed with him wanting to lower expenses, but I wanted to hear more specifics about his ideas,” Stringer said. “He’s a politician though, so he won’t give specifics, which I can understand.”
Stringer, who retired as an Air Force captain, also wanted to hear how the president planned to improve the economy and reduce college interest rates.
Meghan Reeb, Green’s girlfriend, considered the speech to be very inspirational.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m so glad I got off work. I stood for six hours but it was completely worth it.”
Reeb, 18, also got the opportunity to shake Obama’s hand after his speech, of which Green said, “She’s not washing her hand or letting me hold it.”
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.