October 19, 2008 in Opinion

Students tuned in to election


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Some are drawn to John McCain, whom they see as a steady guide in troubling times. Some view Barack Obama as opening a door to a different America for the rest of the world.

After four debates on four very different college campuses this fall, the voices of college students come through, loud, clear and very much attuned to the moment.

The massive security apparatus that descended on Hofstra University here for the final presidential debate Wednesday night – the hundreds of police officers, Secret Service agents and multiple security checkpoints – struck sophomore Thomas McAulay as a sign of the times.

“It says that it is an age of mistrust, I guess,” said the 19-year-old video, television and business major from Manhattan Beach, Calif. “That you can never be too careful. And you can’t.”

From this Long Island school to Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., the three presidential and one vice presidential debates traversed regions, traditions and history. Ole Miss was where James Meredith dared to be the first black student nearly four decades ago and where the first black nominee of a major political party debated.

Belmont University in Nashville proved that small places with big ambitions could be world-class stages. Washington University in St. Louis, which has hosted more debates in the modern age than any other place, became part of history by hosting the first vice presidential debate involving a Republican woman.

All along the way, students of all political persuasions had one unifying theme: that this election counts, that it offers big choices and consequences and that it will make a big difference in their lives.

At Washington University, 19-year-old pre-med major Nick Yozamp, of St. Cloud, Minn., said, “There is this notion that we need change, and people are excited about change.”

He believes McCain, who spent more than five years as a POW in Vietnam, is the best person for what could be a long fight against global terrorism.

“I do greatly admire John McCain as a patriot and definitely because of his five-and-a-half years in Vietnam,” Yozamp said. “Further, I do like his stance on the war on terrorism, being aggressive, on the offensive – more so than Obama.”

But Sam West, a 20-year-old Belmont student from Birmingham, Ala., said he’s not enamored with either Obama or McCain and may vote for Libertarian Bob Barr. West thinks the United States should rethink its place in the world.

“I would like to see America move toward a more passive ideology – a place like Italy or any of the other nations in the world that don’t need to have their fingers in every pot,” West said.

Ole Miss kicked off the debates with a political fair on a warm late September afternoon. Partisans backing McCain, Obama and causes from the environment to energy independence set up booths on a campus green that two generations ago was the scene of deadly riots over Meredith’s entry at the school.

Obama supporter April Smith, 20, a junior accounting major from Crenshaw, Miss., commented on how far her university had come and the significance of the moment.

“After the last eight years of this administration, more people have a vested interest in where our country is going to go next,” she said. “All of us are getting to the age now where it really makes a difference in how we live our daily lives.”

Chuck Raasch is a political writer for Gannett News Service. His e-mail is craasch@gns.gannett.com.

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