I am proud to announce that not only did I start off my college career by hearing the president/dictator of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Columbia seems to have started an annual high-profile speaker series. This coming Thursday evening, Both Barack Obama and John McCain will be speaking in our very own Roone Arledge Auditorium. I entered myself in a lottery to secure a spot in the room, but the odds aren't too high. We shall see!
Presidential Candidates Will Speak at Lerner
Presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama, CC ’83, will appear on stage together in Alfred Lerner Hall next Thursday as part of a summit on the importance of public service, event organizers told Spectator.
“Both Obama and McCain have confirmed their attendance,” University President Lee Bollinger said Wednesday afternoon.
The candidates are two of the many high-profile figures who will appear on campus during the summit, hosted by ServiceNation, a nonpartisan coalition devoted to increasing the commitment of citizens to part-time public service. The organization hopes to have 100 million per year signed on by 2020.
According to an e-mail sent to members of the Columbia community on Wednesday night, students will be able to enter a ticket lottery to reserve seats. But, Bollinger warned in the e-mail, space for Columbia students is limited. According to ServiceNation, 500 “leaders of all ages” are expected to attend the two-day summit, which may curtail the amount of seats available to students. “We will ensure that all seating available goes to students in our University community,” Bollinger said.
Students will receive an e-mail with details regarding lottery registration on Thursday.
The event is part of ServiceNation’s two-day New York Summit, and will also feature New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other politicians. R&B singer Usher is serving as the summit’s Youth Chair.
ServiceNation had previously announced that its summit would be held in New York City, but did not specify that Thursday’s events would be held at Columbia.
Thursday’s event also marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Out of respect for the memory of those who died that day, both campaigns pledged to tone down attack ads.
The summit’s co-chairs include Caroline Kennedy; Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance; TIME’s Richard Stengel; Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation; and Bill Novelli, CEO of AARP. ServiceNation Summit is underwritten by a grant from Carnegie Corporation, and will be presented by AARP, TIME, and Target.
The appearance marks Obama’s first visit to his alma mater during his presidential campaign. Since he announced his candidacy in May 2007, Obama’s reticence to discuss his time at Columbia or to appear at the school has fueled questions about his activities as an undergraduate in Morningside Heights.
Obama, the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, won the Democratic nomination after a protracted primary battle with New York U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. In this election, he has run on a platform of “change,” citing his personal experience growing up as the son of a Kenyan father and midwestern mother in Indonesia and Hawaii, as well as his time as an activist in Chicago and an Illinois state senator. Opponents have attacked Obama for his relative inexperience in national and international politics.
McCain, the Republican senior U.S. senator from Arizona, last appeared at Columbia as the Columbia College Class Day speaker in May 2006. His daughter Meghan graduated from Columbia College in 2007. He spoke largely about his support for the war in Iraq and the importance of dissent and discussion, and was heckled by many attendees.
McCain was initially considered a long shot for the Republican nomination, but his campaign picked up momentum after the New Hampshire primary in 2008. He is expected to formally accept the Republican nomination this week at the Republican National Convention.
During the campaign, McCain has repeatedly cited his own experience as a war veteran and his years in the House of Representatives and Senate as evidence of his qualifications to be president. Critics say that McCain’s policies are too similar to what they believe are the failed policies of President George W. Bush.
Next week’s event will mark a rare joint appearance between the Democratic and Republican candidates, a point that Bollinger stressed in his e-mail. The two candidates last appeared together two weeks ago at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
Rumors swirled around Columbia during the first day of classes about a potential high-profile speaker because certain student groups had their secured space in Lerner revoked for the same date.
“It’s wonderful for us to have the two leading candidates here, and to talk about the issues surrounding service,” Bollinger said.
In the e-mail sent to students, Bollinger said that ServiceNation’s mission fit well with Columbia’s interest in public service. “It is entirely fitting for us to become part of this two-day conclave that will bring together so many admired leaders in our country to consider ways to expand the scope and scale of successful service programs throughout the nation,” he said.
Bollinger wrote that the spirit of ServiceNation’s initiatives are “an essential part of Columbia’s identity and academic mission.” He stressed that the event is nonpartisan, and will not be a debate.
The presidential election comes on the heels of strife over the Iraq war, a shaky economy, and the conflict between Georgia and Russia. The vote also touches on issues such as race and gender, since, if elected, Obama would be the first black president, and if McCain sees success, running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be the first female vice president.
Melissa Repko, Jacob Schneider, and Amanda Sebba contributed to this article.