Experiencing the debate firsthand
Two of our Forum writers, Ariel Kravitz, a sophomore majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Jamie Reiner, a freshman interested in political science, both found themselves with tickets to the debate. Here are their takes.
When I first got the email about my position in the lottery, I thought it was a scam. I was in a meeting and was supposed to be paying attention, so I only skimmed the email to get the gist. It took several rereads and peer reviews to reassure me that my interpretation of the email was correct: I was one of the top 100 people in a lottery pool of over 10,000.
Now, fast forward 10 days—because you really don’t miss anything in those 10 days between the initial email and the day of the debate. I showed up around 3 p.m. in Whitaker Hall to check in and get my number. We were given a fashionable purple wristband that read our number and name. Once gathered in a classroom filled with the glum and anxious faces of students who just wanted answers, your typical Bon Appetit sandwiches and brownie chunks were provided. As there were long lines, I chose to wait and get coffee later. To my dismay, the moment we were given tickets—an arduous and unnecessarily ceremonial event—we were carted off on buses. I never got my coffee and would have to manage the debate un-caffeinated.
It didn’t get much better from there. We arrived at the Athletic Complex around 5 p.m., and the doors to the debate hall weren’t to open until after 6 p.m.
Now, it’s 6:10 p.m., and we’re seated all throughout the bleacher section in the AC. Some sections were purely students, but many were interspersed with the other attendees. Fortunately, we were given handy seat cushions, as most people would go crazy at the idea of spending three hours in a suit on hard metal benches.
Finally—the debate itself. It seemed as if it would never happen. With all the waiting for the lottery numbers, and then the tickets, and then the doors to open and then the program to start, it was finally happening. And it was suddenly all worth it. Despite the Donald Trump supporters hooting and hollering—in spite of Anderson Cooper’s stern warning and the very minimal leg room—being able to watch the candidates spar in a way that television can’t properly capture was incredible. I could keep an eye on both candidates and see how the duo’s body language changed. When Trump turned his back on the audience, Hillary Clinton faced her attention to the town hall speakers. When Clinton was speaking, Trump gripped the back of his chair awkwardly, refusing to sit in it. It was certainly a sight to see and an experience I will never forget.
Being from Washington, D.C., I have grown up around politics, so it seemed fitting that my first semester at Washington University would be filled with media and politicians. As a result of living in the nation’s capital, I was fortunate enough to obtain a ticket through staff members on the Clinton campaign.
When I found out I was going to be able to attend, it didn’t seem real, and it honestly still hasn’t sunk in. When I received an email with the subject line, “On behalf of Secretary Clinton, we invite you to the St. Louis debate,” I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I was instructed to arrive at Whitaker Hall at 6 p.m. When we arrived, my friend and I were suddenly surrounded by professionals that all vaguely looked like famous people, and it began to hit me that I would witness history. We picked up our tickets at the “Hillary for America” table and went through a series of magnetometers which then led us to the busses that would shuttle us to the AC.
Walking into the debate was actually quite emotional. I am interested in political science and, regardless of the candidates, I felt particularly lucky to partake in such an important part of our democratic process. The simple fact that our country has these events is really remarkable, and I was struck with a lot of pride for the U.S. while waiting for the debate to commence. The audience was spread out in the bleachers and I was sitting right in front of the Fox News Channel’s stage, so I was able to see Megyn Kelly (truly goals). When Anderson Cooper stepped out, everything got super real, especially when the woman sitting in front of us not-so-politely instructed my friend and I to stop freaking out and to be silent.
When Trump and Clinton entered and began speaking, it was beyond something I can put into words. While their showing tonight was consistent with how they have behaved the entirety of the campaign, it was extraordinary to see them in the flesh just being themselves. The atmosphere of the crowd gave the experience another dimension as I was reminded of the differing opinions, even on a college campus, and was again grateful to live in a nation that allows and encourages variety in opinions and views.
The town hall style seemed a little lost, as Clinton and Trump would fixate on a single point and struggle to get back to the questions from the audience, but it was nevertheless exciting and riveting to watch. I found the final question the perfect way to end the evening. Even though the debate was quite heated at points, it gave me hope that the country might survive through this election. At the end of the day, I feel grateful to have witnessed such a historic night.