Hampton U. seniors count down to a graduation date with President Obama


Hotel reservations are being made. Dinner reservations are piling up. Parties are on the horizon.

What is arguably most important is that caps and gowns have been purchased and the required number of credits has been attained.

The anticipation to hear President Obama’s words to Hampton University’s graduates continues to build across the campus. On Mothers’ Day, May 9, Obama will be the first U.S. President to be a commencement speaker to address an HU graduation since George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Less than three weeks away, Hampton students are adding the finishing touches to their plans.

Seniors are getting to the bottom of their studies as their final days as undergrads wind down. The Class of 2010’s main concerns at this stage now are grades, tickets, graduation plans and President Obama.

A total of eight tickets will be issued to all graduates: One is for each student, and the remaining seven are for guests.

Another 1,000 tickets have been made available to the general public online at two per applicant.

Students heard rumors for several weeks regarding the amount of tickets they would receive. Numbers circulated from as many as eight, to as little as four.

Joi Troutman, a senior public relations major from Piscataway, N.J., planned for at least 25 family members to attend the ceremonies. About two-thirds will not be able to attend.

“I’m excited about graduation, but also worried about all of my family being able to be present,” said Troutman.

Others were not as concerned.

“I’m not too worried about tickets,” said Lindsay Harris, a senior management major from Fairfax, Va. “My family is coming to see me rather than Obama.”

Once the official announcement was made April 13 on HU’s Web site that eight tickets would be issued to each graduate, the students immediately felt the reality. They hoped for a few more tickets to spare.

“All of my close family can’t get in to see me,” said Harris.

“Now that we have to go through so much, I’m not as excited about him (Obama) coming anymore,” said Samaiyah Bashir, a public relations major from Hazel Crest, Ill.

Another issue related to tickets regarded security concerns. According to university officials planning the ceremony, an estimated 17,000 people are expected to be in attendance at Armstrong Stadium, the commencement venue.

The Secret Service will oversee the entire operation, and they are the party responsible for issuing tickets to this year’s event. Tickets are not normally issued for HU’s graduation.

Once issued, attendants must present their tickets at various checkpoints for security reasons established by the Secret Service.

Procedures of this juncture have also caused concern.

“It’ll make things ten times more hectic,” said Bashir. “It’s hard to tell who can still come.”

With their families in the area for the weekend, seniors have made preparations for the entire graduation weekend to ensure a great time for everyone.

“I’m having a cookout at my grandmother’s home for all my family and friends,” said Harris. Her grandmother resides in Portsmouth.

“My parents got a timeshare so my extended family could come,” said Bashir. Her family will stay at a timeshare in Williamsburg, where many students’ families plan to stay.

She has no definitive plans for after the ceremony, but is excited that most of her family will be in town for the moment.

“I’m having a graduation dinner after the ceremony and a party when I return to Jersey,” said Troutman.

“Right now I have an army of family coming,” said Jabari Adams, a senior history major from Wilingboro, N.J. “We’re trying to do a huge dinner afterwards.”

Students such as Jerry Lee Russell Jr., a senior architecture major from Raleigh, N.C., are solely elated to finally graduate.

“It feels great to finally be able to do it,” said Russell.

Architecture, pharmacy, and nursing are among the most popular programs at HU.

“This year was very stressful,” said Russell. “Architecture is a different beast, and doesn’t really compare to other majors.” Russell presented his final thesis argument on April 16 and is now awaiting May 9. He plans on returning home to Raleigh after graduation and hopes to work at a local architecture firm.

Among all the planning, many students are eager to see President Obama as the day approaches.

“I’m honored to have Obama speak at my graduation,” said Harris. “This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for me and I’m honored that Hampton could pull this off on my year of graduation.”

“Having him speak at graduation couldn’t have been any sweeter,” said Russell. “He’s basically cosigning that we’ll all be great individuals.”

Meanwhile, others like Bashir have become less enthusiastic after details on the event were announced.

“All the extra preparation we have to do for him to come is slowly making me less excited,” said Bashir. “Since I’m from the Chicago area it’s not really as exciting for me as it may be for others.”

“I’m looking forward to graduation and seeing Obama speak,” said Harris. “But the best part will be when I walk across the stage.”

The writer is a senior print journalism major at Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications

April 18, 2010