This afternoon at about 1:30 p.m., U.S. president Barack Obama met the University’s student government president, Tevon Hyman, who had already spent hours standing in for the American president in the debate hall.
“[Obama is] down to earth, very chill,” said Hyman after the meeting. “He came right in like he owned the place. He’s very confident.”
Inside the Mack Complex, the illusion of a town hall is already complete. Students Hyman (junior, political science) and Josh Ettinger (senior, global studies) spent their morning standing-in for Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney as production crews adjusted the lights and atmosphere in the room. The volunteers rehearsed again and again the scene that will play out later tonight: they entered from the door frames, smiling and waving for the close circle of Nassau county voters, played by their peers. They shook hands, sat—paused—shook hands again, and exited.
It’s odd to see a town hall (or more accurately, half of a circular wall and a row of chairs) in the center of what students know to be the Pride’s basketball and wrestling court. The “town hall” where the candidates will debate tonight looks like a non-place. It could be disassembled and rebuilt anywhere and no person on earth could ever tell what “town” the hall was located in.
“You can really see the meticulous details," said Ettinger, during the students’ hour break between rehearsals. He noted that the production crew was checking “if the cups [of water] are accessible on the desk, or what the temperature is in different spots of the room,” using the students as stand-ins for tonight’s real participants.
Christine O’Dea, a mass media major and junior, had the rare opportunity to fill in for Obama’s wife, Michelle. She joked that her height—five-foot-two—made her role feel particularly silly, but still enjoyed the chance to experience the first lady’s perspective.
“She sits above the [undecided voters],” said O’Dea, explaining that the fourth row behind the moderator will be occupied by the candidates’ wives. “It was just really interesting to sit in her seat…she has a special cue, she has to know when to go out, when to cross and shake hands.”
O’Dea and the other student volunteers played out the roles of the candidates and their audience, asking each other serious questions about jobs and Iran or sillier questions about whether Superman or Batman would win in a fight; only Hyman, however, had the opportunity to meet an actual candidate.
“We had a bit of a mishap. Secret Service kicked us out as the two [candidates] were coming in…I was bummed, but we’re getting better now,” said Ettinger.
Several did get the chance to meet Candy Crowley, who reports for CNN and will moderate the debate. Andrea Standrowicz, who sat in for Crowley during today’s rehearsals, speculated how the moderator’s role will play out tonight.
“There will be no funny type of business. She will be very objective,” said Standrowicz.
“She’s going to be tough [on the candidates],” added Ettinger.
Standrowicz also reflected on Crowley’s perspective after sitting in the moderator’s chair for three hours.
“It’s a little intimidating because you’re controlling this situation. It’s a really fun perspective. You get to see everyone, all the people who will be asking the questions,” said Standrowicz.
For photos of Hyman meeting President Obama, visit the Hofstra University Flickr Photostream.