Obama shows Northwestern spirit during economic address


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

President Barack Obama waves to onlookers as the presidential motorcade travels on Sheridan Road. Hundreds of students lined the street to greet the president.

Ally Mutnick, Managing Editor

Though President Barack Obama came to Evanston to talk about the economy, he made Thursday a historic day for Northwestern when he opened with a “Go Cats!” and reminded the crowd of the time he “popped in via video to kick off Dance Marathon.”

“I’d figured this time I’d come in person,” he quipped.

A crowd of about 1,000 packed into Cahn Auditorium, including Evanston officials, Illinois lawmakers, members of Congress and a purple-clad contingent of NU students, faculty and administrators.

Obama landed via helicopter just after 12:30 p.m. on The Lakefill in front of a crowd spanning from Norris University Center to North Campus. His motorcade traveled down Sheridan Road, passing hundreds of students, before turning off on Foster Street to reach Cahn.

Opening his speech by greeting Evanston, Obama paid homage to the city and Chicago, where he got his start in politics.

“Hello Evanston! Hello Northwestern!” Obama said. “It is so good to be here.”

He mentioned familiar faces in the crowd, including the city’s “mild-mannered” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Communication ‘85) and Gov. Pat Quinn (Law ‘80), along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

University President Morton Schapiro, introducing Obama before his speech, also alluded to the notable audience, noting the “two best mayors in the country” — Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Emanuel.

Before taking the stage, Obama met backstage with Tisdahl, Schapiro, Kellogg Dean Sally Blount, lawmakers and some former White House staffers.

“I got to give him a hug and tell him Evanston loves him,” Tisdahl said. “He said, ‘I love Evanston back.’”

Guests allowed backstage wore green wristbands recycled from last spring’s Dillo Day, meaning members of Congress and local politicians sported bracelets with the name of the festival.

“The mayor of Evanston is wearing a Dillo Day bracelet,” Tisdahl noted.

Many students complained after the University initially announced the undergraduate seating was limited. On Thursday, multiple undergrads said they received last-minute tickets to Obama’s speech.

Burgwell Howard, vice president of student engagement, said along with about 35 student volunteers, there were roughly 50 other undergraduates, 20 doctoral students and more than 500 Kellogg students at the speech.

Some students and administrators got tickets from friends or family who work in the White House. Several NU students from the Posse Foundation’s scholarship program said they received an early-morning phone invitation from the University.

NU’s Office of the President also confirmed it gave out extra tickets Thursday morning to students.

As a student volunteer, NU College Democrats President Quentin Heilbroner was able to shake hands with Obama as he left the auditorium and said it was “one of the most fantastic experiences of my life.”

“He does have one hell of a handshake,” the Weinberg junior said.

University and city officials said the day went smoothly. NU, Evanston and the White House spent much of the last week preparing for Obama’s arrival, doling out tickets and working with the Secret Service to close streets and increase security.

Thursday was also the first time in 60 years that a sitting president visited Evanston. Tisdahl said it was exciting for the city, noting its Democratic Party had been the first in the state to endorse Obama when he ran for senator.

All Evanston alderman attended the speech, along with city manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

“The best part of the speech for me was the first two words, ‘Hello Evanston,’” Bobkiewicz said. “That did the whole thing for me.”

After the speech, Schapiro recounted his interaction with Obama, noting they discussed the joys of raising children and Malia Obama’s upcoming college tours.

“He brought it up first … he said his daughter is looking at colleges,” Schapiro recalled. “I said, ‘boy, I’d love to host you on that tour.’”

Paige Leskin, Tyler Pager and Rebecca Savransky contributed reporting.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @allymutnick
For more on this story, visit our livestream and full coverage of Obama’s speech at NU.