AUC campus ‘in disbelief’ over pending Obama visit

By Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 2/22/2013, noon
When Morehouse College President John Wilson Jr. announced last week that President Barack Obama would deliver this year’s commencement address, ...
President Barack Obama will address 2013 graduates at Morehouse University.

When Morehouse College President John Wilson Jr. announced last week that President Barack Obama would deliver this year’s commencement address, senior class president Michael Fleming couldn’t believe his ears.

“I was utterly speechless! I’m still in disbelief,” said Fleming, an African American studies major. “It will be an honor and a privilege to be a part of that commencement.”

The Houston native said the excitement is building on campus and in the community, noting that many previous senior classes have petitioned Obama to speak at their commencements since the nation’s first black president was elected in 2008.

Throughout the Atlanta University Center campus, it seems, Obama fever is raging.

“We’re all excited about the president coming,” said Spelman College senior Anita Foster, a Washington, D.C. native. “It’s one of those historical moments that everyone wants to be a part of.

“My friends and I were kidding that we may miss our own graduation rehearsal trying to listen to President Obama,” she added, laughing.

Meanwhile, many students already are getting calls from eager family members and friends wanting to get tickets to the May 19 commencement, Fleming said.

“Traditionally we get four to five graduation tickets… but we’ve heard rumors that the tickets could be cut down to two,” Fleming said. “I hope not, because I want my whole family and community to experience this moment.”

Student Government Association president Anre Washington said some of his relatives are walking by faith.

“I have family members who are already booking their hotels, and some are asking how much the tickets are – not realizing we don’t sell tickets,” said Washington, , a sociology major.

Washington said everyone on campus is “elated” over the president’s visit.

“I had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with Vice President [Joe] Biden as a sophomore, and now I’ll have the chance to meet President Obama,” said Washington, a native of Hinesville, GA. “I’m so thankful for the experiences I get to have here at Morehouse.”

This isn’t the first time the Atlanta University Center campus has had a commencement speaker of this magnitude. Spelman College had Michelle Obama as its 2011 commencement speaker and Oprah Winfrey as its 2012 speaker.

But President Obama is seen as the “ultimate” commencement speaker by many student observers. The announcement of Obama’s visit comes just three weeks after Wilson took the helm of his alma mater – and he said the timing couldn’t be better.

“It is fitting that the president will visit the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 50th anniversary year of [King’s] iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” said Wilson, a 1979 Morehouse graduate.

Wilson, former executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs added: “President Obama’s life story trumpets an ethic that we try to instill in all Morehouse men, namely excellence without apology or compromise.”

Morehouse students agree.

“In his State of the Union Address, [Obama] talked about education, poverty and critical issues,” said Washington, who plans to get a master’s degree in public policy. “And that’s what I hope to be able to do in my future career as a public servant.”

Fleming, who plans to attend Parson’s The New School for Design in New York, added: “As senior class president, many of my classmates have called me ‘The President’ because they say I have some of the same personality traits as President Obama like his charisma, his ability to speak to diverse people, and just being a good role model.”

And what would the two students like Obama to say?

“I’d like to hear confirmation of the relevancy of HBCU’s like Morehouse College, so it can be heard around the world,” Washington said.

Fleming added:

“I hope he infuses the historic dates of this being... the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech into his speech,” Fleming said.

“I hope President Obama inspires us to reach our goals and to make our own mark on history, he added. “Because if you think you’ve seen great things from Morehouse alumni so far, fasten your seatbelts: You ain’t seen nothing yet!”