by Maria Kelly, with additional reporting by Mary Rose and Hannah Foster. Photos courtesy of Sandbox News photographer Zachary Tomlinson.
“Higher education is not a luxury, it is an economic necessity,” President Barack Obama told a crowd of a 11,000 people this past Saturday at a Grassroots event on SPC’s Seminole Campus.
The crowd at Seminole was enthusiastic throughout the event, despite high temperatures that caused a few people in the crowd to require medical assistance. But even the heat couldn’t overcome the thrill in the air, as St. Petersburg College played host for the first time ever to a sitting American president. Hours before the event started, spontaneous chants of “Four more years!” and O-bam-a!” carried through the crowd like a verbal rendition of the Wave while protesters gathered along the streets with their signs held up proudly for all to see with messages like “Pro-life,” “They lied about Iraq, they’re lying about Iran,” and “Obama instead of Romney is like having cancer in the left lung vs. the right.”
Before the president’s speech, attendees heard some familiar Florida Democrats endorse the president.
Florida Representative Kathy Castor told the crowd: “President Obama stands for students” and mentioned the president’s support of the Pell Grant and his recent fight against increasing the rates on student loans. The president recently increased the maximum award for the Pell Grant to $5,635 for the 2013-14 academic year.
“Look at Paul Ryan’s budget,” Ms. Castor said. “He took a hammer to student aid.”
The crowd thundered with cheers and applause when Charlie Crist (formerly Republican governor of Florida, now Independent and Obama support) introduced President Obama. A young man from the crowd shouted, “We love you, Mr. President!” Obama replied, “I love you back. That’s why I came.”
The president spoke of other issues important to the Democratic agenda, such as health care, jobs, and energy conservation, but education was a recurring topic of his speech to an audience consisting of mostly college students and educators. He declared education will be a priority should he win reelection, and he emphasized the importance of higher education, particularly the role community colleges play in giving American the chance to gain the skills they need to compete.
“I don’t believe that firing teachers, or kicking students off of financial aid…that somehow that’s going to help our economy.”
Obama’s speech was an shortened version of the one he delivered at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte a few days before, detailing the achievements of his first term. “Thank you for bringing me home!” a veteran shouted from the stands behind the podium when the President mentioned the end of the war in Iraq.
“You’re welcome,” he responded. “And thank you.”
President Obama’s visit was part of a multi-day tour of the hotly-contested I-4 corridor in Florida between Daytona Beach and the Tampa Bay Area, which is one of the most populous battleground areas in the country.
The President, along with all of the other speakers, encouraged the audience to register to vote and perform their civic duty by voting on election day. The last day to register to vote in the 2012 elections is October 9th. Visit http://election.dos.state.fl.us/voter-registration/voter-reg.shtml for more information on voter registration in Florida. Work or have classes on Election Day? Try voting by absentee ballot. Information on absentee ballot voting (also called vote-by-mail) can be found here: https://doe.dos.state.fl.us/voting/absentee.shtml