GREENBELT, Md. – As the rows of students filed into the gym Thursday morning to hear President Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s jazz band blasted Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” three times.
The students didn’t even need to hear it once, judging from the enthusiasm.
“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” said Aurore Marionni, 16, a tuba-playing junior. Band members had only found out the evening before that they would be welcoming the president.
Clinton singled out Eleanor Roosevelt for his Conference on Youth, Drug Use and Violence because it is the largest school in Maryland and has student groups working against drunk driving and violence.
Students said they appreciated that Clinton took the time to address them and used personal examples in his speech. The president mentioned how drug abuse had almost cost his brother Roger’s life.
“Him having a teen-age daughter, he can really relate to our lives,” said Jermoni Dowd, 15, a sophomore. “He really cares about our future.”
“At first I didn’t think that a speech could influence anyone,” said Marci Denise, 14, a freshman. She said she was touched by Clinton’s tale of his brother.
“When he said, choose life, personally it struck me,” said Daniel Vanderhave, 17, a senior at Roosevelt.
Before Clinton’s arrival, students began to clap in anticipation. They leapt to their feet as they spotted actor Malik Yoba from the television series, “New York Undercover.”
The entire 2,800-person student body rehearsed in the gym Wednesday, making sure all knew where to sit, stand and applaud. “They were very excited,” said Mike Reidy, dean of academic and student affairs.
“How many people get to actually see the president?” said Donny Oluokun, 17, a junior.
He said that while some students may not support the president, Clinton’s visit was still special.
But some students wondered how effective a one-day conference could be.
“I don’t think that one day of going to a school is really going to do anything,” said Brooke Barcheski, 15, a freshman who suggested a month-long program.
Meghan Shaw, 14, a freshman, added, “It’s exciting, but what is talking about it going to do about it?”
Reidy said the school collaborated with the White House to prepare for the event, touching up the paint in some doorways and making sure no graffiti was on the lockers and walls.
“We did a lot of sprucing up,” he said.
Students reported to school at 9:25 a.m., the normal time, though a few were late because of traffic problems caused by so many visitors, Reidy said.
Some classrooms became “VIP holding rooms,” and students had to wait a bit for lunch, due to the conference schedule.
Clinton had visited the high school once before while he was still governor of Arkansas. “He knows us,” Reidy said. “We hope that when he thinks of high school, he thinks of Eleanor Roosevelt.” -30-