COLLEGE PARK – Tickets for President Clinton’s visit Wednesday to the University of Maryland reportedly “went like hotcakes.” Students lined up to get into Ritchie Coliseum hours before the president’s arrival and eager AmeriCorps volunteers created “a mob scene” on the steps of the nearby armory.
But Troy Poynter, a sophomore accounting student who drives a campus bus four days a week, was unimpressed.
“It’s really no big thing to me. I guess there’ll be more traffic,” said Poynter, who said he was not aware of the president’s visit until a reporter asked him about it.
Poynter’s attitude was typical of many students on the sprawling College Park campus, whose enthusiasm for the president’s visit seemed to wane the further they were from Ritchie Coliseum.
Clinton came to College Park, where he unveiled his AmeriCorps volunteer service program in 1993, to kick off a yearlong recruiting drive aimed at boosting the ranks of the program that has been called a domestic Peace Corps.
Campus groups have been working feverishly on the details of the visit for a week. But some, like Delta Tau Delta fraternity member Raffi Karamian, only learned about it in a roundabout way.
“I found out this Saturday that the president was coming when they called to tell us, `No shenanigans’,” said Karamian, a sophomore from Bethesda, whose frat house is right next to the coliseum.
Delta Tau Delta brothers were told to keep their blinds down and not to look out windows facing the coliseum. They stood outside the frat house Wednesday, trying to catch a glimpse of the president.
Next door, the brothers at the Kappa Alpha fraternity house were watching a small clutch of protesters that showed up for Clinton’s visit and discussing the president’s recent impeachment troubles.
“I lost a little bit of respect for Clinton in the last couple of months, but you can listen to him anyway — he’s the president,” said Kappa Alpha member Jeremy Robbins, who picked up a ticket Tuesday morning and was headed to the coliseum.
Joe Powell, a mechanical engineering major from Damascus, was in a group that formed to watch the presidential motorcade pass. He said he would have picked up tickets, but he found out about the visit too late.
“I don’t really watch the news, so for me this is the news,” said Powell, a sophomore who was accompanied by several students who cut class to try to get a glimpse of the president.
Not everyone was willing to cut class for the president. Sophomore Alison Deming, studying her French lesson over a hazelnut latte in the student union, said she would have gone to see the president “if I didn’t have class.”
Dancers at a swing-dance demonstration down the hall were even less enthusiastic.
“I had the opportunity to get tickets from a student group, but (Clinton) is not high on my happy people list right now,” said swing dancer James Hanson.
“I guess we’re apathetic Americans,” said Mike Shay, another of the dancers.
Bobbie Miller, who was at the student union recruiting students for summer camp counseling jobs, “was just hoping it (Clinton’s visit) wouldn’t mess up my parking.”
But outside Ritchie Coliseum, student excitement was high.
Frank Boher knew early it would be a busy day, when he saw “guys with earpieces” walking around his fraternity house. He “arrived to a mob scene” at 10 a.m., when he went to his job at the campus armory to find the steps filled with AmeriCorps volunteers in khaki cargo pants, gray T-shirts and black fleece vests.
By 12:30 p.m., the line of students dressed in everything from fleece to ties wound down along the side of the coliseum.
“I’ve been researching AmeriCorps since I got back to school last summer,” said Erin Weiss, a junior government and politics major. “It’s something I want to do and I’m glad this lined up.”
Jason Goldstein, one of the last students to get into the coliseum before the doors closed, had mixed feelings about the president.
“I polled for Clinton in ’92,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m happy anymore about it, but it should be interesting to see him live.”
A handful of protesters turned out for the event — a half-dozen Lyndon LaRouche supporters, an equal number protesting the war on Iraq and three people upset by Clinton’s sexual escapades who carried large signs that said, “Jail to the Chief.”
But the protesters drew scant attention. And a block away at the Sonic Grind coffee shop, it was “just another day,” according to owner Barbara Melvin.
Bridget Dee, a journalism student from Langley Park who was in the Sonic Grind, remained cool.
“I haven’t really thought about (Clinton’s visit),” she said. “I saw it in the paper yesterday, but I don’t really care, to be honest.”
In front of Ritchie Coliseum just prior to the end of the speech, Shelby Berger had just realized the president was in town.
“I’ve been really busy as (her sorority’s) rush chair for the past two weeks,” she said. “I’ve been pretty much out of touch with the news.”