A wave of missed and met expectations: A first-year’s perspective on the debate

Alexa Miller | Contributing Writer

Picture this: A doe-eyed, gangly girl sitting in front of her computer. Hands shaking, she juggles her phone in one hand and attempts to scroll the cursor over the taunting “view your application status” button. “Congratulations! You have been accepted to Washington University in St. Louis,” it read. As my mind began to race and a million thoughts of excitement infiltrated my head, one in particular stuck out: Wash. U. would be hosting the debate during my freshman year.

Since last December, my friends and family have kept asking me, “aren’t you excited that YOUR campus is hosting such an important debate?” At the time, I could honestly say I was. As a prospective political science major and politics geek, the fact that I could have this once-in-a lifetime opportunity made attending Wash. U. even cooler. As I packed up my room for my first year away from home, I could not help but think that I was about to have a distinct start to my freshman year.

In the underwhelming weeks leading up to the debate, I developed a very different perspective on the debate. Yes, there were a few things that were (or were not) going on around campus: the new Athletic Complex wasn’t open, there were some signs and WILD was canceled. But based on what I had seen, I thought that acceptance letter should have read: “Congratulations! We are going to get your hopes up this fall, bring a ton of publicity to campus, and then exclude you from the actual event while a bunch of members of the public get to enjoy this historic moment in the new athletic complex. Can’t wait to see you in August!”

Just last Sunday, I sat in my room thinking: If I could only go back to my summer debate fantasies. Yes, it is great that our University is getting nationwide exposure. But what about the students who live here? Sometimes I feel like our campus is just being used by the outside world. Out of the 10,000+ Wash. U. undergraduate and graduate students interested, fewer than 500 students got access to the actual debate. Like most other students, the results of the lottery dashed my dreams of shaking Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s hands. My hopes were replaced by fences, a huge security detail on campus and the need for identification to walk freely about campus. But, as a freshman living on the other end of campus, who never passes the AC and doesn’t live on Upper Row, I felt like I wasn’t going to get to be a part of this experience.

As of this Friday, I felt like, in order to even see a media crew, I would have to walk 15 minutes from my room. I walked over to campus with some friends to see what was happening; however, once I got there, none of the news sources wanted anything to do with us, unless we held club leadership positions, and how could I as a mere freshman?

Going into this weekend, my expectations were ridiculously low. On Saturday morning, I did not even want to even venture onto the Danforth Campus. After my friends physically dragged me there, though, my perspective on the debate changed. There were so many more people out, excited about Wash. U. students and their input. Even this morning, as I chanted with some of the crowd, “Dump Trump,” during a commercial break, an MSNBC anchor talked to us, telling us that the entire student involvement and enthusiasm was beyond expectation. And she wasn’t wrong; the energy was contagious. Whether it was spray painting signs or trying to get a pin and T-shirt from every news station, I was actually enjoying myself. People all over campus were expressing their beliefs, whether it was through an interview, a nauseatingly patriotic outfit or signs.

The highlight of my weekend was snaking my way past all of the creative signs regarding Trump’s small hands, Clinton’s emails or sending money to a Venmo, to the front of a CNN show. Excited to have my face on national television, I called my grandparents, who were screaming as they saw their first granddaughter jumping and blowing kisses at them from behind Poppy Harlow. Concerning the security issue: Yes, it was inconvenient, but honestly, the police could not have been nicer, and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.

Like the majority of Wash. U. students, I’m slightly miffed and disappointed that I didn’t get to be in the debate hall itself. However, the experiences that I had this weekend completely outweighed the “letdown” of not being able to get up close and personal with Clinton’s wrinkleless forehead or hearing Trump say “wrong,” “China” or any other buzzword in person. Being a part of the hoopla and collective bipartisan excitement that swept the campus was something so unique. The energy I felt from Wash. U. students about politics was something that I had never seen before, and it gave me hope that, when it becomes our turn to lead, there will definitely be enough passion to fuel our country forward.

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