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Former President Bill Clinton makes stop at CCRI
April 14, 2016
Crowds packed the cavernous Great Hall at the Knight Campus of the Community College of Rhode Island this afternoon as members of the public joined students, faculty and staff to hear an address by former President Bill Clinton on behalf of his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Though the college does not endorse any political candidate, when the Clinton campaign announced that it would be making a stop on campus, the CCRI community was buzzing with anticipation of the event. In the past, the college had hosted a similar event featuring Michelle Obama when Barack Obama was first running for the presidency.
While advance staffers set up risers for the press and sectioned off spots near the stage for visiting state and local dignitaries, hundreds of members of the public lined up on the entrance ramp to the building before the event. The campus was open for all classes and activities today, and students were milling about the space as it was readied.
In the back of the room, student Walter Neary, who is studying communications, stood with a group of his friends waiting for the event to begin. "It's interesting. We don't really see people like this come here every day. I'm interested to see why he's here, what brings him here," said Neary, who added that he couldn't venture a guess as to why the Clinton campaign chose CCRI as a stop on its tour, just that he was excited to hear what the former president had to say.
Not too far away, in the press area, Computer Programming major Jason Klas had a couple of ideas. Reporting today for the Unfiltered Lens, the CCRI student-run newspaper, Klas is also the director of student relations for the Knight Campus Student Government. He said he thought that perhaps the demographic at CCRI would be more favorable to the Clinton campaign as opposed to her party opponent Bernie Sanders, who he thought would be more popular among young college students at Rhode Island's four-year universities.
"Here, we're not a homogenous population," he said. "We have commuters, some older people who are working also." Klas said that no matter what a person's party affiliation, their votes and voices mattered. "It's so important to vote, because it's how things get done in America," he said. "You have a voice, you can influence the government. Once you stop using your voice, they stop listening to you and stop working on your behalf, and you get to a point where it's not much different than a monarchy. You have to keep using your voice."
While this will be Klas' first election, there were two students nearby who weren't quite old enough to cast a vote. Nevertheless, they were on hand to demonstrate the importance of being politically informed.
"In two years' time, we'll be able to vote," said student Jodi Lombardi, who came with her friend and fellow Met High School student, Anna Maschia. The two are taking college-level biology classes at the college. "These are the people who are going to be making decisions for us for the next four years. We want to know where our country's heading so that when we're able to vote, we'll know what's going on."
"And have a say in what things are going to be like," added Maschia, a Bernie Sanders supporter. But there were those in the crowd who were getting even more of a head start than Maschia and Lombardi.
Aaron Perkins, an adjunct faculty member in Fire Science, stood waiting with his son, Jake, 9, who took some time out of elementary school to come with his dad to the event. Perkins said that fourth-graders have to do a presidential report, and it was a perfect time to bring Jake to see the former president – even though his report was on William Howard Taft.
"It might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said Perkins. "I think it's great that CCRI is hosting it. It's a great venue, and I think that any time we can get involved with former leaders or future leaders, we should."
Skylar Florio, an undecided voter who will vote in her first presidential election this fall, was on hand to see one of those future leaders, Knight Student Government President David Sears, who was one of the day's speakers. In his speech, Sears emphasized the importance of getting involved in campaigns and making voices heard. "I think everyone should vote so that everyone has a choice," she said.
CCRI President Meghan Hughes called the event a chance for students to "observe firsthand a piece of the American political process" as she kicked off the speaking portion of the rally.
"We're so proud CCRI was chosen to host today," she said. "It demonstrates the vital role community colleges play in making higher education attainable for all Americans." Addressing CCRI students in the crowd, she said, "You are dedicated, resilient, and talented, and you represent the future promise of this country. So you should have a stake in the leadership of our state and our country, and leadership should have a stake in you." Following Hughes' remarks,
Gov. Gina Raimondo made an introduction and message of support for Hillary Clinton before bringing out the man of the hour, who spoke on his wife's track record and stance on issues such as green jobs, manufacturing, immigration and student loan reform. But first, he had a few words he attributed to his own beliefs: "I was the first American president ever to give a commencement speech at a community college," he said.
"I believe America would work a whole lot better if it worked like a community college. Just think about it. There's open admission; everybody can get in. Nobody cares what your race, your background, your orientation, your income is," he said. "The curriculum is flexible; it changes all the time to meet the demands of the economy. People can be educated for success: They can leave here and go further in education or they can leave here and get a job. This is the way America should work."
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