Two classes skipped and seven combined hours of waiting in a line that snaked to the edge of campus, I was one of 10,750 attendees who heard the first lady speak on behalf of her husband at the University of Florida.
Before landing in Gainesville, Michelle Obama visited Florida State University earlier that Monday to pander to the youth vote, the 18- to 24-year-old demographic goldmine. The youth vote carried much of the 2008 Obama campaign weight, with 61 to 39 percent favoring the former Illinois senator to Sen. John McCain. So in an effort to not lose that momentum that carried her husband into office four years ago, the first lady is working hard, visiting two major universities all in a day’s work.
Michelle Obama greeted the roaring crowd at the Stephen O’Connell Center with a gesture that fired up the at-capacity arena even more — the gator chomp.
It’s that kind of schmoozing that made young Obama supporters swoon with overwhelming support. The matriarchal first lady — who is about the same age as many of our parents — saw eye-to-eye with students and spoke like any mother would to her son or daughter: caring and gentle, yet authoritative.
In her speech (strikingly similar to her speech at the Democratic National Convention), she was three for three on issues mattering most to students: student loans, health care and jobs — everything broke college students want to hear.
Under the barely successful Affordable Care Act, young people can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, giving a little breathing room for college graduates struggling to find a job.
The Obama administration capped student loan payments at 10 percent of income and doubled federal financial aid for Pell Grants.
The first lady boasted there have been 30 months of private sector job growth and 4.6 million new jobs. (Not completely true: The Obama administration begins counting job growth from after the stimulus plan was passed, not at Obama’s inauguration.)
All these reforms are verses in the song young people want to hear sung. But something’s got to give: the national debt recently topped a heart-stopping $16 trillion, and all these reforms will cost taxpayers — if not now, then eventually.
These initiatives are short-term solutions to growing long-term problems. Students might be saving a few bucks under their parents’ healthcare, but later, when grads finally get their careers rolling, they’ll be feeling it in their checkbooks under the new healthcare law.
Spotting the bill for everyone’s college education is ideal, but not feasible — at least not under our current budget. Here, I reluctantly agree with Mitt Romney: College is not an entitlement, and students absolutely should “shop around.”
Even if the Obama administration did start some job growth in four years’ time, students still become panic-nauseous about finding a job as the graduation date lures closer. One out of every two recent college graduates is unemployed or underemployed. No one ever wants to go back home to their parents’ couch, but some young people have no other option.
Across the street from the eternal waiting line, a handful of Gators for Romney supporters protested. That same day George P. Bush, the former Florida governor’s son, campaigned in Gainesville for the Republican nominee. But even as a journalism student with my ear to the ground, Bush’s appearance in Gainesville crept under the radar. We can’t help it — the GOP’s stubborn platforms on social issues coupled with an unapologetic and distant presidential candidate do nothing more than repel many student voters like the plague.
With two less-than-satisfactory candidates, one incumbent and the other a mega-rich businessman, the election should boil down for student voters like this: Are you more confident in post-graduate life than four years ago, and in four years’ time, will you be any more confident?
Colleen Wright is a journalism sophomore at the University of Florida and a former Miami Herald intern. Follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright.