Obama mania at Carolina

Carmichael Arena pulsated with excitement as the crowd of 8,000 waited for President Barack Obama to take the stage on April 24, 2012.

At 9 a.m., four hours before Obama spoke, a line of people waiting for the doors to open snaked across Hooker Fields past the School of Government, then down Country Club Road to Ridge Road and past the School of Law, all the way to Boshamer Stadium. Within a few minutes, the end of the line had become the middle as more and more people joined.

Murphy Donohue, a first-year student from Orlando, Fla., got in line at 5:30 a.m. “It was a cool experience,” Donohue said. “Not only did I want to see the president, but I think he’s speaking on a very important issue. This is our future. The policies being made today are affecting us tomorrow.”

Brian Min, a junior from Raleigh also began his wait in the wee hours. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s ridiculous, in a positive way, to have Obama, Jimmy Fallon and the Dave Matthews Band on campus before classes end. It’s a great way to end the school year.”

Once inside the arena, the anticipation continued to build as the crowd began chanting “Tar” and “Heels” after the wave went around the arena a few times.

David Owens, Gladys H. Coates Distinguished Professor in the School of Government, said it was exciting to see so many people, including public officials, turn out. “It’s a big commitment of time, but it’s only the seventh time a sitting president has visited UNC.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., Chancellor Holden Thorp revved up the crowd with brief comments in which he noted the rare opportunity for Carolina to host a president. He said that Carolina, where public higher education was invented 200 years ago, was “the right place” for Obama to talk about keeping college affordable.

Dominique Garland, a senior from Greensboro majoring in elementary education, introduced Obama, but not before explaining what the availability of student loans and financial aid had meant to her.

And then, dressed casually in a white shirt rolled up at the sleeves, the president bounded to the stage, greeted by thunderous applause.

Junior Shannon Cobb did not have the chance to see the president in person, but experienced the excitement as an onlooker and watched on TV. “No matter who you support, it is cool to have the president on your college campus. It is one of those things you are going to tell your kids.”

For additional information about Obama’s speech.

Read a transcript of the speech.

Published April 24, 2012.