Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) President Paul LeBlanc tweeted on Monday, Oct. 10, that the campus would be hosting a “very, very special VIP visitor” later that week.
Students and faculty quickly began pegging @snhuprez with their guesses, which ranged from David Ortiz to Missy Elliot.
The next morning, news dropped that the First Lady of the United States would be coming to N.H. to campaign for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton. A critical battleground state in the 2016 Election, and SNHU was set to be the venue.
Immediately, the subject became national news, as this event would mark Michelle Obama’s first public appearance since the leaked tapes of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women.
The Hillary Clinton Campaign and the First Lady’s team collaborated with the Field Operations and Women’s Center staff on short notice to set up and secure the Field House for Thursday, Oct. 13 and to give SNHU students access to VIP seating.
Brooke Gilmore, the director of the Women’s Center, placed almost 200 people on the VIP seating list. “I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday reaching out to students who we thought might be interested in and energized by witnessing the speech as soon as we heard it was going to focus on women,” Gilmore said.
“As evidenced by the news cycle, what we witnessed was about something larger than this election,” Gilmore said. “Michelle’s speech deviated from a normal campaign pitch and spoke on a really personal level about the harmful, shocking rhetoric against women that is currently permeating the political landscape.”
Leading up to the First Lady taking the stage, students heard from democratic candidates who are in their own political races in the state of N.H.
Then, Michelle Obama took the stage to an electric atmosphere provided by many young and energetic voters in the audience. “I really enjoyed her speech, and I feel really lucky to have been there and to have seen her speak in person,” junior Stephanie Anderson said. “It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Obama gave an emotional testimony against Clinton’s opponent, without once mentioning him by name.
“She helped give voice to so many questions and feelings that so many women and men are having when they hear the misogynist language and normalization of sexual assault from a presidential candidate on the national political stage,” Gilmore said. “She reminded us that complacency with rape culture is never okay and that words do matter.”
She spoke directly to the women in the audience and connected Trump’s attitude towards women to the inappropriate behavior some women experience in the workplace or at college. Obama said, “This isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong.”
Junior Logan Waterman was one of the many student attendees. “Michelle Obama was a brilliant speaker who spoke to the crowd with such power,” Waterman said. “You could tell she was passionate about these feelings for equality and overall how important being a kind human being is.”
The First Lady also challenged the men in the room by saying Trump’s decision to dismiss the leaked tapes as lockerroom talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.
Student leader Breana Diaz said the speech made her motivated to really make a change and become more involved with politics.
“What I think is most important for our students was the call for action that she challenged us with,” Gilmore said. “It is easy to get disillusioned by this election season, and yet, as Michelle emphasized, every person in that room has the power to make change. Women especially should feel empowered—when it comes to voting we actually have equal power and an equal say.”
Videos and clips from the First Lady’s speech at SNHU have circulated social media. “Regardless of one’s political affliction or leaning, it is pretty impressive to say that a First Lady delivered a groundbreaking speech on your campus whether you attended or not,” Gilmore said. “That’s a benefit of our geographical location; we’re always going to have major political players in our area, so if you’re a politically engaged person this is a great school to be at.”