The Columbia College Senior Class Council wants United States President Barack Obama, CC ’83, to speak at this year’s Commencement—and they are willing to do pretty much anything to get him here.
In an official announcement to the Columbia College senior class Wednesday, CCSC Senior Class President Sean Udell said that an invitation had been sent to Obama by the senior class and University President Lee Bollinger.
“But he’s been sent invitations before,” Udell said in the email to seniors. “What we think will do the trick, however, is to demonstrate a grassroots movement made up of a united student body. That’s a tall order, but I have a feeling that we can pull this off.”
As part of the Columbia University President of the United States project, Udell is urging students to make a stand through personal letters to the president, events on campus, and, in the future, maybe even a trip to Washington, D.C.
Although this movement has been in the works for weeks, Udell said the administration asked the students to hold off until the University’s public relations department was brought more fully into the loop.
In both of their letters to the president, Bollinger and Udell stressed that this is a student invitation.
“Although it would be my pleasure to invite you again this year to Columbia University’s 257th Commencement celebration on May 18, 2011, instead, I enclose a formal invitation from the Senior Class President of Columbia College,” Bollinger wrote in his letter. “My hope is that the students’ collective voice will demonstrate to you our united desire for you to return to your Alma Mater.”
“Their ideas are thoughtful and their plan over the year will translate their inspiration into action. I can think of no better way to show pride in our Alumni and in our community than to fully endorse their efforts,” Bollinger added.
In his official invitation, Udell told Obama about the plans for the student movement—and the many updates Obama should expect to see.
“Recognizing the University President’s previous efforts, we also wish to express our plans for a student-led campaign to make your return to Columbia University an even more welcoming experience,” Udell wrote. “This initiative, which we have named the ‘POTUS PROJECT’... will rally the entire University student body around the pride and honor that we would enjoy were you to accept our invitation.”
“Those exercises will begin this week, and we cannot wait to send you frequent updates of our successes in uniting the campus around this cause,” he added. The letter was sent on Oct. 7, according to Udell.
Included with the invitation, Udell said, were photos of the student turnout when Obama came to campus for the ServiceNation forum in the fall of 2008 and when he was inaugurated into office in January 2009.
While there have been discussions about inviting Obama to campus since the end of last year, the original plan was to invite Obama to be the Columbia College Class Day speaker. But considering Obama’s importance, the administration wanted to invite him to speak at Commencement instead.
Traditionally, the University president is the keynote speaker at Commencement.
Udell said he would like to start this student movement through personal letters to the president and campus student group involvement in the project.
“We want to flood the White House with letters,” Udell said.
He also said that he plans to reach out to the student governing boards at the University to have them get their student groups involved in this. “I want every student group to present something for the project.”
Udell also emphasized that this is not just a movement for Columbia College seniors—it is a movement for the entire student body.
He said this provides a “unique opportunity to bring the student body together for a common cause.”
Even though non-seniors will not be able to attend the graduation due to space constraints, he thought that Obama speaking at it should still excite those students.
“At the end of the day … we do feel a particular sense of pride when really distinguished people come.” Udell said. “That’s something that brings students a lot of joy.”
And, if student enthusiasm is high enough on campus, Udell would like the students to take a trip to D.C. with photos, posters, and other supplies to make their voices heard.
“We would love to take caravans of students down to the White House … where we could make a statement, make a presence, let ourselves be seen,” he said.
Other undergraduate councils said they were looking forward to participating. School of Engineering and Applied Science Senior President Amanda Tan is also excited about the project, and would like for SEAS to participate.
“We are definitely in full support,” Tan said, adding that the SEAS council has been in discussion with CCSC about this project ever since they decided to invite him for Commencement instead of CC Class Day.
Tan hopes SEAS and CC will be able to come together to support this endeavor. “If we show we are united as a student body, I’m sure it will get his attention,” she said.
Reni Callister, BC ’11 and Student Government Association senior class president, said she planned to work on the POTUS Project as well.
“What’s wonderful about this project is that it mandates collaboration between the undergraduate colleges, and Barnard’s Senior Class Council is looking forward to working on such a massive grassroots campaign,” Callister wrote in an email.
This renewed push comes after several failed attempts to bring Obama back to speak on campus following his appearance at 2008’s ServiceNation.
“I got that email today, and it’s really exciting, but I’m also skeptical about whether it’s going to be effective,” Erica Drennan, CC ’11, said. “But I think it’s a nice idea for bringing the community together whether or not we get the president to come.”
The POTUS Project already has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a website.
“We want to get students individually excited about this,” Udell said. “This kind of a large-scale campaign has never been done before.”
He added that the movement was partially inspired by a student movement to get Obama to speak at the University of Michigan’s graduation last year. Although Udell said that this movement is different because it will be more student-focused than UMichigan’s campaign, which predominantly focused on student leaders.
“Hopefully thousands of students will be responding to it,” Udell said.