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Debate Day leaves students with a stronger sense of civic duty

By Andrea OrdonezManaging Editor

After almost a year of anticipation and eight months of preparation, Hofstra finally became the center of political attention Tuesday night for the second presidential debate between President Obama and former Gov. Romney. While pundits and polls placed high expectations for both candidates, students also got their moments in the spotlight as reporters from around the world asked for their opinions on issues like campus security and the national deficit.

The intensity of Debate Day hit some students at 3 a.m., when some crowded around the MSNBC stage in the hopes of getting a chance to show Hofstra pride on their early-morning network show. For others it came around at 3 p.m., with a microphone and a message to the crowds near Hagedorn Hall. And for more than 300 students, it came in the evening as they sat in the Mack Sports Complex, watching a debate that they knew would impact the rest of this election.

With less than two hours left before the debate began, freshman Corey Rand stood in the cold outside of the security clearance as one of the last five students to get a debate hall ticket. He had been using his Tuesday off to finish up an essay for a class when he received that golden ticket email. “Today was supposed to be a homework day, but I got my notification and I was like ‘Okay, no homework then, I’m going to the debate,’” he said.

But Rand and others in the debate hall were not the only ones feeling the spark of civic engagement.  Senior Imran Ansari, president of Democrats of Hofstra, sat in a golf cart waiting to escort the last two guests of the Obama campaign, one of which he heard would be Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. His excitement about being a part of the Obama campaign for this debate exceeded the chills that came from the weather.

After the debate, Ansari held up a tall sign for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and watched the flock of cameramen and reporters crowd around him. By the time the cameras moved on to the next politician, Ansari was leaving the filing center with the sign autographed by Kerry.

While some students like Ansari represented campaigns, 350 students stepped up as volunteers, doing everything from sitting in as Obama and Romney in rehearsals to manning security zones alongside the NCPD and the U.S. Secret Service. Cait Stolzenberg and Lawrence Daves, debate committee co-chairs, went almost 24 hours without sleep on Debate Day. They were busy talking to press and making sure programming moved as planned. For Stolzenberg, the stress from lack of sleep and months of planning disappeared as she stood as a volunteer on the debate floor.

“I was about 20 feet away from both of the candidates,” she said. “When I left the debate hall… I was shaking; it was an amazing experience.”

As Stolzenberg and other students absorbed every moment in the debate hall, reporters scurried around spin alley and politicians came in to talk about their party’s candidate. With a recorder right in front of Maryland Sen. George O’Malley’s face stood Bridget Bernardo, an 11-year-old Time for Kids reporter. She professionally listened to O’Malley talk about his expectations for Obama and even threw in a question about whether the president appeals to Catholic voters. Besides interviewing politicians, Bernardo also got a seat in the debate hall, where she expected the candidates to play nice.

“I expect both candidates to try to answer the viewers’ questions and not to evade them,” she said. “And they have to be kind to the people because they want a president they can like.”

However, both candidates came out swinging this time around, each prepared with defenses and accusations. And of course, governors and members of Congress showed smiles off to reporters and praised their respective candidate’s performance.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Kerry Healey emphasized Romney’s focus on getting young voters jobs. “I think that he tried very hard to keep the topic on some of the issues that were of interest to young voters,” she said, “especially the availability of good jobs when you get out of college… Gov. Romney is determined to make the changes in our laws and in our tax code, and also by repealing Obamacare, that are going to allow those jobs to be there for young people in the future.”

Meanwhile, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin defended Obama’s record of helping college students. “I hope younger voters know that the president has been pushing to change student loans so that they are less expensive for students and easier to pay back,” said Durbin. “He has been fought all the way by the Republicans and Romney… Secondly, he’s expanded Pell Grants, which helps families with lower income send their kids to school. So I think in those respects, he’s moving forward in the right way.”

While quotes whirled around spin alley, students gathered at different locations on campus to watch the debate. Silence pervaded Monroe Lecture Hall and the Student Center Theater, while HofUSA gave off a party vibe. No matter where they watched, #HofDebate tweets and Facebook posts let not just the country, but the world know the community’s pride in the University.

“Reading Facebook statuses from last night, everyone said that they were more informed voters,” said Stolzenberg. “I hope that the media realized that Hofstra is the place to be and that no other school could top what we put together last night.”

But Wednesday morning, campus life went back to normal as MSNBC took apart its stage and drove away. The space where the colored blocks of art stood is empty, but remnants of what transpired 24 hours earlier remain.

Stolzenberg feels bittersweet about Debate Day ending, but she and Daves plan on organizing Election Day festivities.

In the Student Center, the College Republicans sat behind a cardboard cutout of Romney, looking just as enthused as they did in front of cameras the day before. The club’s president Charles Picone had plenty to complain about, from Candy Crowley’s strong moderation to the imbalance of media coverage.

“We, the core Republican club, came out very, very strong,” he said. “The media was coming up to [the Democrats on campus] and asking them to do things… They weren’t asking us, we had all our signs, they didn’t want to do anything with us. What we did was go up to the back, raise up our Romney signs and chant for Romney. We would make sure our voices were heard, and we definitely turned heads.”

However, complaining wasn’t the reason the College Republicans decided to reserve an atrium table after Debate Day. They want to keep the students enthusiasm for the political process going. “People might forget about politics when the debate’s over,” he said. “People have walked by; the student population is so engaged. We’re not done; our job is not done here.”

A version of this article was published on A2 of the October 18 issue. 

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