At about 10 a.m. on Friday, Frank Jenkins, a first-grader from Tom Bradley Elementary Magnet School, arrived at USC to see the president speak.
“I wanna see Obama,” seven-year-old Frank said. “I never saw Obama.”
Frank — who said he thought Obama would be better to watch in person than on television “because you get to see him” — was one of 40 students from Bradley who attended the “Moving America Forward” rally, which was organized by the Democratic National Committee and hosted by USC’s Student Political Assembly.
David Harrell, a program director at Bradley Magnet School, said he wanted to bring the group of children to the rally to expose them to someone they would not normally see — the president of the United States.
“They’re excited right now. It’s a [once in a] lifetime experience,” said Harrell, adding that one of his students began crying because of how close he would be to the president.
Harrell and Frank were two of the 37,500 people who attended Friday’s rally, including USC students, faculty, staff, community members and visitors from across California.
Lines began forming at entrance gates beginning at 3:30 a.m., though gates were not slated to open until 10 a.m. Clutching empty coffee cups and using umbrellas to shield themselves from a light rain, attendees said they were excited at the opportunity to hear Obama speak.
“I am just so happy that he’s here, not because he’s a black man, but because he’s a fine man,” said Betty Austin, 54, a retired nurse from Inglewood, Calif.
“He’s real. He goes and shakes their hands,” said Suzanne Reiman, who traveled from Palmdale, Calif. to USC for the rally. “Other politicians aren’t real like that,”
The event was open to the general public, but students from USC and other Southern California schools stood on risers behind the podium from which Obama addressed the students on the need for youth political involvement. Jonathan Brebner, president of USC College Democrats, was one of those students, and said it was an experience he would never forget.
“It’s really cool to be that close to the president and to get that excited about the political process,” Brebner said. “It was an absolute privilege. It was a lot of fun to be part of the rally — not just in the rally, but be part of it and feed energy into the crowd and feeding from it.”
Darryl Yip, a senior majoring in economics at Loyola Marymount University, said it is important for young people to hear their president speak.
“I went to the [former President Bill] Clinton rally at UCLA, and he said you can’t expect a president to lead if he can’t govern,” Yip said. “It’s really important for the president to be someone young people can look up to, to get people to vote.”
Several students said they believed hearing the president speak in person was a unique experience that many might not have again in their lifetime.
“It’s important that we get someone as big as the president to share his views and profess them on students and allow them to be knowledgeable about the world,” said Adam Mintz, a junior majoring in business administration. “I’m certainly willing to listen. I think it’s important for students to listen, whether they agree or disagree.”
According to an online Daily Trojan poll, 46 percent of about 700 voters said they were planning on attending the rally, while 32 percent of voters said they would not attend the rally because they had no interest in seeing the president and did not agree with Obama’s policies.
A few protests took place the morning of the rally near attendees waiting in line on 34th Street. One was hosted by the USC College Republicans and another staged a mock waterboarding in protest of the war in Afghanistan.
The general sentiment on campus, however, seemed to be enthusiastic about the president’s visit and his message promoting political involvement, Brebner said.
“Most people, I think, tend to sink into this idea that politics can be boring or it’s not relatable, but that’s not true at all,” Brebner said. “It’s really not boring. It’s completely relatable and it’s really exciting.”
Correction: 10/24/10: Adam Mintz was misidentified in a previous version of this story. This entry has been corrected to reflect the change.