Obama talks student debt and job prospects with five UI undergrads

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 26, 2012 6:30 AM

Blake Anderson
Marissa Boles
Myranda Burnett
Jordan Garrison-Knickerson
Martin Lopez
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Five University of Iowa students had the opportunity to sit down with President Barack Obama to discuss federal student loans before his address at the Field House Wednesday afternoon. The students spoke to The Daily Iowan about their experiences.

For UI senior Marissa Boles, the fact she spoke with President Obama had yet to sink in even hours after the meeting.

"I still don't believe it," Boles said later Tuesday evening. "Let's just say that."

And Boles said the meeting was relaxing.

"I'm a pretty anxious person, and I've honestly been more anxious doing some presentations in college than I was talking to him," she said. "He walked into the room and he was like, 'Why is it so quiet in here, everybody?'"

Boles said the meeting was "surreal," as she has been an Obama supporter since his campaign for the presidency in 2008.

"It's like when you go on vacation, you see a place that looks really cool, and it looks more like that place than you imagined it would," she said. "It's like when you run into football player in class."

Boles said she was also surprised by how thin and tall the president was in person relative to what he looked like on TV.

And even more so, Boles said, she was impressed by his character.

"The genuine guy you see on TV actually exists within him," she said. "What you see in the candidacy is what you get when you meet him."

Blake Anderson didn't expect meeting the president to be so casual.

Anderson, who later introduced the president before his address at the Field House, admitted he was star-struck when President Obama first entered their meeting room.

"We were sitting around the table, and I had my back to the door and everyone went quiet and I saw everybody's faces," the UI junior said. "Their faces went ghost white, and I turned around and the president is literally right there, sticking out his hand, introducing himself."

And he said the president quickly calmed the situation.

"I was star-struck, but literally after a minute or two of just the way he was interacting with us and his calm demeanor everything was so relaxed," the junior said.

Anderson said he left with a new perspective on the president.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the responsibility he holds," he said. "For him to take the time and sit down with five college students to talk about student loans is pretty special."

UI sophomore Jordan Garrison-Nickerson said he was surprised by how laid back the president of the United States was during their meeting.

"We get a notice that he has just walked into the building, so we get all nervous," Garrison-Nickerson said. "So it's all quiet and President Obama strolls into the IMU and is like, 'Hey, why is it so quiet in here?' He was a really nice, really down-to-earth guy. He made it really, really relaxed — he even cracked a few jokes."

Garrison-Nickerson said he found Obama's voice was distinct in person.

"You obviously know that President Obama is a great speaker. There's something about his voice. It wasn't necessarily his looks that got me, but it was his voice," he said. "There's almost a rhythm of confidence, but also a 'Hey, I'm a nice guy, let's share a message together.'"

And, Garrison-Nickerson said, the conversation was casual even though they talked about a pressing issue.

"We were talking about a serious topic with student loans and Stafford loans and how important that is for the future, but despite the importance of the topic, he made it informal," he said.

UI sophomore Martin Lopez said meeting Barack Obama made him realize the president is just 'a normal human being'.

"It was kind of surreal. I didn't believe it at first. I thought it was a joke to begin with," Lopez said. "I was shocked when I first saw him."

Yet he said Obama helped ease his initial anxiety.

"He was in a really relaxed mood. He made the environment very relaxed and calm," Lopez said. "My nervousness just went away."

Lopez said he was able to see a more personal perspective of the president.

"I got to see an informal side of him. I understand he's president and all, and there's so much behind it, so much stress and responsibility, but I just saw that he was having a good time," Lopez said.

The sophomore said he was able to relate to the president.

"You know that's the president, but he makes it seem like no big deal," Lopez said. "He's like, 'I'm a person, too. I'm here and I've gone through the same things that you have.' "

Myranda Burnett will soon have not only her own debt to think about but that of her fiancé as well.

And that was something President Barack Obama said he could relate to.

"He related the story I told him with his and Michelle's debt, as well," the UI junior said. "After we were done taking the picture, he was telling us goodbye, and he told me I'll make a beautiful bride."

And she said the compliment was one she felt honored to have.

"It was really kind of exciting, because, past his daughters, how many people is he going to tell that to?" she said.

Burnett said the president was instantly aware of her situation.

"When he first came and we introduced ourselves, he was like, 'Myranda, you're the one getting engaged,'" she said. "He congratulated me."

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