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South Whidbey students ‘wowed’ at Obama rally

President Barack Obama points skyward before giving a stump speech for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during a get-out-the-vote rally in Seattle last Thursday. - Brian Kelly / The Record
President Barack Obama points skyward before giving a stump speech for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during a get-out-the-vote rally in Seattle last Thursday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

What sort of impression does the leader of the free world leave on a group on young high schoolers?

Turns out, a pretty big one.

“He brought a presence into the room that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. Just this pure presence of, ‘I’m the man,’” recalled Patrick Myatt.

Myatt was one of a group of 20 or so South Whidbey High School students who traveled to Hec Edmundson Pavilion Thursday to see President Barack Obama speak at a get-out-the-vote rally for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

It turned out to be a larger-than-life lesson for the high school students, all members of teacher Nels Bergquist’s public speaking class at South Whidbey High.

“He knew how to control a crowd. The crowd loved him,” Myatt said, recalling the many shouts of “I love Obama!” erupting from the audience of more than 10,000 while the president spoke. “I thought it was going to be a great speech, and he delivered.”

Myatt is 17, and too young to vote in next week’s election. But he said Obama has his vote for the 2012 election.

“I thought that I was going to get an exciting experience. And it exceeded that for sure,” said Rain Ellis, a South Whidbey student who is 18. “It’s pretty amazing that one person can get that much energy out of a crowd. That was really cool.”

Ellis said Obama’s message made an impact.

“Every vote really does count,” he said.

“I was not really sure if I was going to vote,” Ellis said, adding that he hasn’t studied up on the issues on the General Election ballot. Now he will.

“I think it’s important that I have the power to vote, that I should go out and learn enough to make an educated vote. Not vote just what my parents tell me,” Ellis said.

The South Whidbey students traveled as a class to catch Obama’s visit, part of the president’s five-state swing late last week to help candidates in the U.S. Senate who are in tough reelection battles. The students walked onto the 7 a.m. ferry Thursday, then took public transit all the way to the University of Washington campus.

When they got there, the line was so long they didn’t think they would get in.

They did, however, and sat in the top rows of the basketball arena behind the speakers’ stage.

“Just seeing the president of the United States was overwhelming,” said Avery Grant, 17. “It was just kind of like, whoa. It was weird standing there, and the president was right in front of me.”

“I knew he was going to be a good speaker, because I’ve seen him on the news and stuff,” she added. “It was exciting. I’ve never seen anyone famous before.”

“It was a really powerful thing, and it was incredible to see the leader of our country speak,” added classmate Seth Sobottka, also 17. “Not a lot of people get that opportunity. You can see him on TV or hear him on the radio, but it’s not the same as seeing him live in person.”

Michael Grimm, 17, said it was his first political rally, and admitted getting swept up in the excitement and emotion of the crowd.

“It got you really pumped up, the whole crowd yelling, a lot of cheering. You felt energized. You wanted to pump your fist and shout,” he said.

“I would have believed pretty much whatever he said,” Grimm added.

Hayley Hanna, a 17-year-old senior at South Whidbey High, said the rally had its surreal moments.

“Right when he walked in, it was just kind of this thunderous applause. It was just kind of weird, because it’s somebody who is known world-wide,” she said of Obama. “It’s like the most important person who I’ll ever see, and ever hear speak, and I’ll have my grandkids in the future asking me about it.”

Hanna said she was impressed.

“He was a really great speaker. He was more entertaining than I thought. Some kids in our class thought it was going to be boring. But most people got what he was saying and listened to the whole thing.”

Her favorite part, she said, was Obama’s description of Republicans behind the wheel before he took over as president.

“And then they got us all into this ditch, and then handed over the keys to the Democrats,” she recalled. “And then he said, ‘If you want to go forward, then put the car in ‘D.’ If you want it to go back, then put it in ‘R.’ I thought that was hilarious.”

Tyler “Chuck” Norris, the ASB president for two years running at South Whidbey High, said he was surprised by the reaction of the enthusiastic audience.

“I was kind of taken aback by the response of the crowd. He’s just such a superstar that people freaked out,” said Norris, 17.

“I mean, it was 10 minutes of just solid standing, clapping, yelling, everyone just freaking out.”

“He’s the man,” Norris said.

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