Barack Chalk

Roze Brooks

President Barack Obama visited the University of Kansas (KU) Thursday to address an audience of approximately 3000 students, faculty, staff and community members about Middle Class Economics.  Immediate hype about the presidential visit started about a week before Barack’s arrival when KU announced that free admission tickets would be available to students, faculty and staff  at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.

With the State of the Union address taking place Tuesday evening, attention was already drawn to the oncoming visit when tickets became available.  A queue spanned the length of Jayhawk Boulevard most of the day Tuesday. A mass of people started forming a line outside the Kansas Memorial Union, where the box office was located, hours before the building even opened for business.  Tickets were also available to the general public starting at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday at an off-campus location.

On Thursday morning, a long queue started once again, with many attendees arriving outside the Anschutz Sports Pavilion as early as 4:00 a.m.  Doors opened and attendees piled into the pavilion to find a large stage assembled, a giant KU banner hanging from the rafters, and bright overhead lights shining on an empty podium.  Although Obama was not scheduled to speak until after 11:00 a.m., a large crowd started forming quickly after doors opened at 8:00 a.m.

The audience was psyched out several times as individuals from the KU community approached the podium. A sea of cameras and other electronic devices bobbed up and down as members of the audience thought the president was about to take the stage.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little opened the event with an energized welcome.  She was followed by KU senior Alyssa Cole, who spoke of her struggles being a single mother of three and attending college. Cole had the honor of introducing Obama, who was greeted by cheering and rapid fire camera flashes.

Upon approaching the podium, Obama bellowed a loud “Rock Chalk” and the crowd responded “Jayhawk.”

“It is good to be at KU,” Obama said.

The President then admitted he had taken some time before the event to meet with the KU basketball team and Head Coach Bill Self.  Local news outlets later reported that Obama jokingly discussed his own love-hate relationship with basketball and that he could still beat anyone at horse but was starting to lose his touch.

President Obama spoke of his own Kansas roots alluding to his mother from Wichita.  He segued into revisiting some highlights from Tuesday’s State of the Union address.  One of his primary focuses was equity for the middle class.

“Middle class economics works,” he said. “Providing opportunity for everybody works. The ruling on the field stands.”

President Obama also centered his speech on affordable childcare.

“It is time that we stop treating childcare like a side issue or a ‘women’s issue.’ This is a family issue,” he said.

Obama also made a nod to a long-running feminist issue of unequal wages for women in the United States.  He said that higher wages for all was the “right thing to do,” adding that Congress still has to pass legislation that pays women the same as men for doing the same work.

Another challenge was posed to Congress with Obama stating that if politicians believe working and middle class people can survive on less than $15,000 a year then they should try it themselves.

“We’ve got the super rich getting giveaways they don’t need and the middle class folks not getting the breaks for things they do need, like childcare,” he said.  “So what I told Congress is, let’s just close those loopholes.”

He implied that instead of rewarding big companies that use their profits to outsource jobs abroad, we should be supporting companies that create more jobs here in the United States.

“So we’ve made it through some hard times, but we’ve laid a new foundation Jayhawks. We’ve got a new future to write. The young people here are going to write a new future for America. Let’s get started right now,” Obama said.