||Centre students abroad help coordinate Obama forum
RELEASED: April 23, 2009
The following is an excerpt from an article originally printed in the Cento student newspaper. It was written by Michael Garton, a sophomore from Louisville currently studying in Strasbourg, France
DANVILLE, KY—In an age when comparatively few Americans enjoy the opportunity to hear or see a sitting American president in person, far fewer can say they helped make the event possible. During President Obama's recent town-hall style meeting in Strasbourg, France, eight Centre students who are currently studying abroad in the city volunteered most of their day to help the president's staff coordinate the event.
This town hall, the first of its kind to be attempted outside the United States, gave President Obama an opportunity to engage the international community in one-on-one dialogue. To do this, the White House bussed in over 1,000 German citizens from nearby Heidelberg and issued invitations to another 3,000 to 4,000 Strasbourgeois.
"This is a chance for us to try something new to us and new to Europe," said Duncan Teater, a member of the White House staff who instructed the volunteer corps. "Maybe leaders owe more to people than simply giving a speech and taking screened questions or those by the press."
The logistics of getting people into the event were accordingly complicated. Due to the NATO summit, the very reason President Obama was in Strasbourg, the city had been divided into different-colored zones. Main areas designated for the conference were in red zones surrounded by orange zones nearly twice their size. For security reasons, manholes and trashcans were sealed, detoxification facilities were erected, and access to many parts of the city were restricted.
More than 15,000 police and military personnel entered the city to secure NATO participants, which were expected to include almost 50,000 people.
Because of the intensity of the security, Centre students helped workers from the White House and the American Embassy in Paris manage crowd control at the outset of the event. All Strasbourg attendees met at one location to be transported to the event. Caravans of ten charter busses from German companies made the 20-minute journey to the Rhenus Arena under police escort.
The students' activities mainly involved directing people in either French or English, translating instructions, and acting as a barrier or directional aide and were a critical part of the effort.
"We could not have pulled off this task of moving 4,000 people in and out, especially smoothly, without the help of volunteers," said Allison Areias, a liaison at the Paris Embassy.
During the event, students sat within easy sight of the president, though they refrained from questioning Mr. Obama at the request of the White House. To avoid the possibility of being seen as "plants" by journalists who may have noted [the students'] roles as volunteers, and to focus on the international nature of the event, students assumed the role of spectators.
"It was a good thing to give Europe different access to sources of power than they may be used to," said Alex Skees, a Centre sophomore from Jeffersonville, Ky.
Following the event, students again worked to direct participants back to their busses. During this time, they mingled with other students and Embassy and State Department officials who were attending the NATO summit.
After spending several hours on their feet, Centre students stood for another hour inside the stadium, craning their necks for the first glimpse of the president. Tom Kent, a junior from Hendersonville, Tenn., noted the uniqueness of the opportunity.
"It's the president, and we're in Strasbourg," Kent said. "Of course I'd want to go."
For more on Centre's study abroad programs, click here.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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