Alumni reminisce about 2000 Vice Presidential Debate
Centre College will host the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate in two months, and the campus and community are abuzz with excitement, plans and preparations. For some, the anticipation brings back memories from twelve years ago, when Centre hosted the 2000 Vice Presidential Debate. Alumni who acted as student volunteers at the time recall the thrill of having all eyes on Danville.
“I was a debate and politics junkie while at Centre,” says Wes Fugate ’02. “As a sophomore at the time, I hoped that I would be able to contribute in meaningful ways. President Roush stated that students would be involved, and I am an example of Centre’s commitment to have students involved in debate preparations.”
Students found a variety of ways to participate in debate preparations in 2000.
“I was a volunteer photographer for the 2000 Debate,” says Benjamin Bynum ’01. “I took photos of everything from Spin Alley to the Debate set-up and preparations, events on the lawn, concerts and more.”
“I was a freshman—coming in, I thought there would right be no hope for getting a ‘really good’ gig during the debate as those spots would be filled by the upperclassmen,” says Melissa Thompson ’04. “Little did I know that my early involvement with the College Republicans would land me right behind the stage watching the debate with Liz Cheney Perry, who I assisted by making sure she made it to her media appointments after the debate. What an awesome behind-the-scenes experience, courtesy of Centre College!”
“I was the chair of the College Republicans the year that Centre hosted the debate,” says Les Fugate ’02, Wes’s twin brother. “In addition, my brother and I were house managers at the Norton Center and were part of the security team for the debate. I appeared on all of the national broadcast stations plus CNN and other cable outlets.”
Volunteering for the debate gave students an inside look at how much work went into preparations—and also gave them a chance to connect with some interesting people.
“As the debate date approached, I remember being somewhat frustrated with what, in my naïve opinion at the time, was an over-abundance of security. It seemed every Crown Vic in the state with a light bar was on campus,” says Kyle Poland ’02. “My job was helping the State Patrol officers with guard duty at one of the doors to Sutcliffe, which had been transformed into the communication center of the universe. I remember the officer I was sitting with telling some amazingly heroic stories. My hat’s off to the officers that have to deal with the things he shared.”
Students were also able to connect with each other.
“President Roush handed me a few extra tickets and asked me to find students who would be able to attend. I went out on campus, giving tickets to a handful of lucky students who could join those who had already received a ticket through the lottery,” says Wes. “The look of excitement of my fellow students’ faces when I handed them their tickets is something I will never forget.”
Those who were given tickets to the debate hall remember seeing it in person as a remarkable experience.
“I was selected via random draw to attend the debate and I remember thinking that I liked the VP candidates at the time better than I liked the presidential candidates,” Bynum says. “It was a historical event that I will remember always.”
“I looked around the hall and told myself, ‘You are literally a part of history,’” says Wes. “The debate was magnificent—especially if you have an interest in policy, as I do. Both candidates were brilliant and defended their positions well.”
After the debate concluded, the candidates—along with political figures, pundits and the media—congregated in Spin Alley.
“My favorite experience was in Spin Alley. That is when I fell in love with the people who communicate a politician’s message,” says Les. “I had the opportunity to meet so many famous and influential people. Governors, senators and congressmen from all over the country were there.”
“People were running everywhere—famous political figures, famous news reporters. I loved every second of it,” says Thompson.
Although it’s been over a decade since the debate at Centre in 2000, those who were students at the time agree that it has had a lasting impact.
“There were learning opportunities around every corner. It is still one of the defining events in my life,” says Wes. “The residents of Danville and the students of Centre will get to create their own exciting memories around the 2012 debate. I know that it will positively impact many of them in the way the 2000 debate did for me. I have come to expect that from Centre.”
The alumni are excited for current students and the opportunities the debate this fall will afford them.
“I hope students use the debate hoopla and attention to realize leadership opportunities and responsibilities as highly educated citizens in the political sphere,” says Bynum.
“It is an important event—not only in Centre history, but in our nation’s history,” Poland says. “Pay attention to it, because outside of watching it again on YouTube you can’t go back and do it again.”
For more information about the upcoming debate at Centre this fall, visit the debate website.