By SUSANNAH CLARK
UMW junior Courtney Hayes arrived at the doors of Great Hall at 7:45 a.m., six and a half hours before President William J. Clinton took the stage at the surprise rally Monday. It was her 21st birthday.
“I wanted to be in front and be hardcore,” Hayes said. “I actually beat the secret service here.”
President Clinton’s appearance was announced publicly by e-mail at 8:34 a.m., four hours before the rally’s anticipated 12:30 start.
According to the press release, the President came to speak at UMW to campaign for his wife, presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Teresa Mannix, director of news and public information, said in an interview that the rally was “like a free Fredericksburg Forum.”
That morning, students and community members formed a line that spanned from the entrance to Great Hall all the way past Trinkle Hall on the south end of campus. The line members had “Vote Hillary” signs, as well as scarves and gloves; the temperature dropped to 17 degrees.
UMW Fire Marshall Ruth Lovelace estimated over 1,000 in attendance, with Great Hall at full capacity at 600 people. The remaining 400 stood outside and downstairs in the Eagle’s Nest.
When the doors were finally opened to the crowd at noon, people ran to the stage while Tom Petty’s “American Girl” was played over the stereo system.
Clinton began the rally by announcing his surprise at running into an old college friend—Steve Stageberg, associate professor of economics. Clinton described Stageberg, who attended Georgetown University with President Clinton, as “the track team’s finest.”
After name-dropping, the President dove straight into fact-dropping.
“You know, this school was founded one hundred years ago this year,” Clinton said. “It started as a school for women, when they were segregated and defenseless. I think this would be a good year to elect the first female president.”
Clinton laid out the reasons one should vote for his wife this election.
“You want somebody with the right vision, you want somebody with the right plans, and you want somebody with the ability to get the job done,” Clinton said.
The President concentrated mainly on Hillary’s health care and education plans, and also mentioned the economy and the war in Iraq.
The President also proposed energy-saving initiatives for universities, similar to what UMW had already adopted last year.
Despite touching on very serious issues, the President also made several jokes, including some about the perks of his former presidency.
“You live in America’s best public housing,” Clinton said, referring to himself. “Your airplane’s so cool they make movies about it.”
Clinton also joked on missing the processional song, “Hail to the Chief.”
“For three weeks after I left the White House I was totally lost because nobody played a song anymore,” Clinton said. “I didn’t know where I was.”
At 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, a representative from Clinton’s campaign informed the police station of the rally.
UMW Police Chief James Snipes commented on the last minute announcement.
“In some ways [security] is easier,” Snipes said. “There’s not enough time for someone to come up with an elaborate prior plan.”
In addition to the Secret Service, the event was patrolled by seven more police officers, including four from the Fredericksburg City Police and five officers working overtime.
Junior Colin Turner, founder of Students for Hillary, had been feeling “excited and stressed” for the past 18 hours.
“I was given a call by a representative from Hillary’s campaign on Sunday evening,” Turner said. “When they told me they wanted Bill to speak at the Great Hall, I didn’t realize they meant on campus. I was like ‘cool, where’s that?”
Fellow Students for Hillary member and UMW junior Hilary Lufkin was looking forward to the event.
“Most college students are for Obama, but that being said, everybody wants a Democrat in the White House,” Lufkin said. “Most of my friends are here and don’t care who they voted for absentee. We’re here to take back the White House.”
Acting President Rick Hurley had similar excitement, but with less partisan intentions.
“I don’t look at it [politically],” Hurley said. “I think it’s an opportunity to get our name out in public. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Hurley also commented on the large turn out of both students and press.
“Look at all this press that’s here. If they say president Clinton is on our campus, that’s what I’m happy about. I’m also happy about the experience the students are getting. I’m thrilled to see such a turn out,” Hurley said.