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Week of 9.12.08

Candidates Meet at Columbia
By Habiba Nosheen, a Columbia University graduate student

Habiba Nosheen On the seventh anniversary of 9/11 Senators John McCain and Barack Obama met at Columbia University in New York to speak about the vast social challenges facing America. While some 250 students were lucky enough to get into the event, an estimated 9,000 others watched outside on a giant TV screen set up on College Walk.

Students seemed to be spilling out of every corner of the campus on this chilly night, many wrapped in blankets to keep warm. In the buildings overlooking the screen, you could see students gawking through the windows, eager to watch.

Students were keen to catch a glimpse of the candidates—even if it was only on a television screen—and brag to friends and family back home that they had participated in this memorable event.

Sen. McCain took to the stage first (he won the coin toss) and received a cold response from the students outside. One part of McCain's speech that received a strong, if polarized response came when he discussed Gov. Sarah Palin. Applause was mixed with loud booing. One student told me later that there's a huge stigma attached to being a Republican at Columbia University.

When it was Obama's turn to speak, the response was markedly different. Students enthusiastically cheered: OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! Shortly after beginning his speech, the Democratic nominee took a swipe at President Bush for "telling the country to shop" in the aftermath of Sept 11th.

On the subject of Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a controversial issue on college campuses, McCain criticized Columbia for not allowing ROTC on campus for recruiting. Students who supported the ban cheered loudly, then booed when McCain talked about the option of serving as a military officer. Later, Obama also shared his belief that ROTC should be allowed on campus. The crowd remained largely silent.

Obama shared his idea of a $4,000 tuition credit to student for public service. To this, a student in the crowd yelled, "that's nothing" (FYI: Tuition for a journalism student at Columbia is about $41, 000 a year).

Related Links:

Read more from Columbia Journalism graduate students who attended the campus visit

Read coverage of the event from The New York Times

Students Perspectives: Candidates at Columbia

Chikodi Chima

Chikodi Chima "American campaign politics has left the sound era byte in the dust. I was using Twitter to cover the event via text message. Everything of substance Senators McCain and Obama said could be quoted in under 140 characters. The future of our country can now be squeezed onto a cell phone screen." (Photo: Joseph Lin)

Heather Grossmann

Heather Grossmann "It's been exactly seven years since 9/11, one month since I started J-School and an hour since Senators Obama and McCain spoke here on Columbia's campus. The self who experienced 9/11 was hoping to be moved. The new journalist in me was looking for an interesting byte to blog. And the citizen voter was looking for inspiration. No such luck." (Photo: Ben Piven)

Karn Dhingra

Karn Dhingra "I was live-blogging McCain and Obama's interviews with a former Marine and current Columbia student. We thought McCain was more comfortable than Obama when it came to answering the questions. Even though it's an election year, I was struck by how much politics was hit upon by the candidates on 9/11 at a non-partisan forum on national service." (Photo: Ben Piven)

Jamie Oppenheim

Jamie Oppenheim "I nodded to myself in understanding when Sen. Obama said the best education he received was when he worked as a community organizer in Chicago. Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I spent two weeks gutting houses throughout the Ninth Ward. Despite being there for a short amount of time, I feel like I grew more then than I ever have, and vowed from then on to serve others throughout my life. Journalism is now my chosen vehicle for public service." (Photo: Paul Stevens)

Malia Politzer

Malia Politzer "I spent the evening pounding the pavement with a microphone in hand. I was disappointed by how few of the people I interviewed seemed to know the actual reason behind Senator McCain and Obama's visit. Service is an important topic, but it was eclipsed by presidential hopefuls' celebrity status. That's just sad." (Photo: Ben Piven)