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Presidential interactions stick with Ohio State students

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

Basements were the most common meeting place and small talk focused on everything from NCAA tournament brackets to law school aspirations.
Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government presidents have enjoyed some face time on campus in recent years with their counterpart in the White House. In one case, President Barack Obama remembered the face, if not the name.
“(OSU) had more presidential candidate visits than about 30 states last year,” said OSU President E. Gordon Gee in a March 25 meeting with The Lantern. “I told one of the Secret Service guys one time I was just going to give him a cot in my office and you could just stay here.”
President Barack Obama has visited campus three times in a year. He kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center on May 5, and he is scheduled to give the Spring Commencement speech exactly one year later in Ohio Stadium. Between that time, he visited campus twice – once in August to grab a Reuben for lunch at Sloopy’s Diner and once to give a campaign speech on the Oval in October.
Getting the president to speak at commencement is something Gee gives himself credit for.
“This is a very funny story,” Gee told The Lantern. “I joked with him. I said, ‘Well Mr. President, you’re going to lose Ohio.’ And he said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because you gave the commencement speech to the University of Michigan (in 2010) and I want you to give it here.’ So that’s how that happened.
“He’s a man of his word, so that was great,” Gee said.
But of the six times Obama has come to OSU, Gee said that was one of the only interactions the two presidents had.
“Many people believe that the presidential elections are determined in Ohio, which is true,” Gee said. “We have so many of these presidential candidates and my view is the fact that I need to keep above that.
“Mitt Romney was a friend of mine and I didn’t see him, and when the president comes on campus, I don’t see him if he comes as a candidate.”
When USG President Taylor Stepp had his run in with Obama, some of Stepp’s constituents held him to the same standards.
“There were some people that I had spoke(n) with … and they had said, ‘Hey, you’re USG president, you shouldn’t be political,'” Stepp said. “I don’t agree with them … if the president of the United States comes, you should certainly go and represent the student body.”
When Obama came last May to kick off his campaign, Stepp was among a small group waiting in the basement of the Schott to greet him and the first lady.
“His motorcade pulled in and his staff was already there … and I just see the president and Michelle Obama like striding toward me with these ridiculous cars and the motorcade behind them,” Stepp said. “I don’t get nervous at all, (but when) I saw him striding toward me, I’m like, ‘This is so unreal.'”
Stepp said Barack Obama asked him about the university and his aspirations, and Michelle Obama gave him a hug. The whole interaction lasted about 10 minutes.
Gee said he would meet with Barack Obama if he came to campus not as a candidate but on an official capacity, which is what will happen on May 5. But Gee, who has been conducting commencements for 33 years, said his job during graduation will remain the same.
“Obviously when you’re dealing with the security issues, I think some of that does change,” Gee said. “But in terms of my own role, I’m kind of like an orchestra conductor, I just want to make certain that the symphony plays well.”
About 12,000 are expected to graduate this spring, making this the largest commencement ever, and with heightened security and stadium renovations, a ticket limit was imposed on graduates. As of Wednesday, graduates are allowed seven tickets each.
Nick Messenger, a fourth-year in economics and 2011-2012 USG president, will hear Barack Obama speak May 5 among a sea of graduates, but once upon a time, he personally welcomed the president to campus too.
Obama visited campus on March 22, 2012, to give a speech about his energy policies and visit OSU’s Center for Automotive Research.
According to a Lantern article, Gee was not at the speech because he was out of state, but Messenger was there to greet him.
“We gave him a basketball signed by the OSU team and we kind of talked a little basketball … I remember ’cause I gave him a hard time about that actually,” Messenger said. “He said, ‘Oh, do you have any advice on getting re-elected? I’m gonna have to try that again real soon,’ and I said, ‘I don’t have any advice on getting re-elected, but I do have some advice on your bracket,’ because he had picked North Carolina over us (to win the NCAA March Madness tournament).
“I didn’t know how he was gonna take it, whether he would think that was funny or whether he thought it would be irritating, but he laughed pretty hard.”
Messenger said meeting and greeting Obama was certainly an honor, but the fact that the president of the U.S. came to OSU to tour certain facilities spoke highly of OSU’s status as an institution, especially in the way of alternative energy was a bigger deal.
Some could argue the same could be said about certain dining locations on campus. In August, Obama came back to Columbus for a speech at Capital University, but he squeezed in a surprise visit to Sloopy’s Diner in the Ohio Union. It was there that Obama and Micah Kamrass, USG president for the 2010-2011 school year, were reunited.
In October 2010, Obama made his inaugural visit to campus for a rally on the Oval, and that time, Kamrass was there to greet him – in the basement of Hopkins Hall.
“We also presented him and the first lady with OSU football jerseys with ‘Obama’ on the back,” Kamrass said. “He was No. 44 for the 44th president and we gave the first lady No. 1 for the first lady, and they got a kick out of that.”
Kamrass said Gee was out of town during that visit, too. Kamrass said he and Obama discussed his plans to go to law school and Obama’s time as a law student and professor.
Kamrass is now in his second year at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, and when Obama swung into Sloopy’s for lunch in August, Kamrass happened to be in the right place in the Union at the right time.
“He kind of stopped and looked at me and said, ‘I’ve met you before,'” Kamrass said. “He was like, ‘Didn’t you graduate already?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m here at law school now.'”
Almost two years and dozens of campaign stops later, Obama appeared to remember Kamrass.
“He at least remembered the face,” Kamrass said. “I was impressed with the millions of people he’s met over the years, just remembering my face was pre
tty remarkable.”

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