Record number of students witnessed debate in person

For most WUSTL students, the opportunity to witness a presidential or vice presidential debate live comes along once in a college career, if they are lucky.

For a University-record 432 students, that dream became reality Oct. 2.

Student lottery winners happily pose for a picture before the debate. A record 432 lucky students received debate tickets.

“You could feel the anticipation in the hall before the debate started, and everyone seemed to know this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the political process up close,” said freshman Alicia DiGiammarino.

As in past debates, the University received debate tickets from the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). All tickets received were made available to students via a ticket lottery.

This time, that lottery was more popular than at any other WUSTL-hosted debate, with 7,942 undergraduate and graduate students applying for tickets.

In contrast, 5,873 students applied for tickets during the 2004 presidential debate and 183 got in.

“It was absolutely thrilling that we were able to get so many students into the debate hall,” said Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office and associate director of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service.

“The students were bursting with excitement and were so grateful for the opportunity. Many students I didn’t even know were hugging me and thanking me, but I was just the messenger of the good news.

“This was really about the generosity of the CPD in giving so many tickets to Washington University, and about the University’s steadfast commitment to putting students first and giving them this experience of a lifetime.

“I am very proud to be among colleagues who, at every turn, made sure it was students who got in the door,” Kurtzman said.

This year’s ticket lottery drawing was held Sept. 26. A computer program randomly chose the lottery order, and later that day the students who entered the lottery were informed of their status via e-mail. The top 512 were contacted, with 432 ultimately getting chosen.

Those who got in were amazed.

“Knowing I would get into the debate was a remarkable feeling,” said junior Yael Friedman. “I knew that I would be part of an historic event that is so crucial in this upcoming election. I really enjoyed seeing the debate live and being surrounded by important politicians.

“I was better able to focus on the vice presidential candidates and their political agendas,” Friedman said.

Graduate student Bamidele Otemuyiwa, who pulled No. 2 in the lottery, agreed.

“I felt really lucky knowing that I was going to get in,” Otemuyiwa said. “I could hardly believe my luck that my name came out second out of nearly 8,000 people. Seeing the debate live was an amazing experience.

“It was really interesting to see the way the media handles the showing of the debates, and sitting on the floor with all the politicians and talking to them added to what was already a great experience,” Otemuyiwa said.

Senior Frances Cole summed it up best. “For one night, Washington University was the focus of all local, national and even international media, and I got to be at the epicenter of all the action,” Cole said. “I had a ticket to history.”

For the 2000 presidential debate at WUSTL, 100 students initially received tickets into the debate hall and about another 50 made it in at the last minute. In 1992, fewer than 100 students witnessed the debate live.