A high-speed rail linking Tampa and Orlando was the main topic of President Barack Obama’s speech. But the mention of a new student loan initiative caught the attention of a few USF students among the crowd.
About 2,600 students and community members managed to get free tickets to hear Obama at a town hall’meeting at the University’of Tampa (UT) on Thursday,’leaving over 100 to listen via loudspeakers in the school’s soccer stadium.
‘Let’s tell another 1 million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans and all of their debt will be’forgiven after 20 years – 10 years if the person works for the government,’ Obama said to a standing ovation from the audience.
The initiative went into effect Wednesday following his State of the Union address, according to CNN.com.
‘In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college,’ Obama said.
USF Student Body President Juan Soltero said Obama’s speech and his promise to decrease student loans, left him feeling confident in the future of American education.
‘Education is one of those fundamentals for any country. Any citizen has to be educated in order to move forward,’ Soltero said. ‘There are a lot of people that haven’t been formally educated that have been successful, but I think a collective society has to be educated ‘hellip; I think a loan’program would be a great thing.’
Laila Abdelaziz, a USF’freshman majoring in political science and international relations, attended the town hall and said that while she may disagree with his’foreign policies, she supported’Obama’s changes.
‘I think the loan is great,’ Abdelaziz said. ‘We’re in such hard times, it’s difficult to find a president that is willing to and has the drive to try to do something about it.’
USF Vice President Bruno Portigliatti said the president’s initiative is ‘very attainable and beneficial to students.’
‘Politics aside and ideology aside, Obama is a great speaker and interacted well with the audience ‘hellip; The loan is a great idea and was met with’overwhelming support,’ Portigliatti said. ‘When he mentioned it, every student got up and started clapping.’
In his speech, Obama’formally announced his plan to give $1.25 billion in economic stimulus money to help build the high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando.
The $9 billion planning and construction of the rail will create an estimated 6,500 to 7,000 new jobs, which will alleviate Florida’s 11.8 percent unemployment rate, according to floridahighspeedrail.org, a state sponsored Web site.
‘Those things are fast,’ Obama said. ‘They’re smooth. You don’t have to take off your shoes.’
The Florida project, known as SunRail, is among 13 projects in seven states to receive funds from an $8 billion’federal stimulus money for high-speed rails.
The train will travel at speeds exceeding’120 mph and will be similar to the light rail initiative that aims to connect USF, Tampa and downtown by 2018 but will have fewer stops to expedite travel time, according to floridahighspeedrail.org.
The connection will span 13.3 miles, compared to the SunRail’s 61 miles, and is expected to cost up to’$70 million per mile.
After his speech, Obama allowed for six questions from the audience. Abdelaziz was chosen first.
Abdelaziz asked about America’s support for human rights that Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address the night before.
‘In your address, you spoke of America’s support for human rights,’ Abdelaziz said. ‘Then, why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt’s human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people, and yet we continue’supporting them financially with billions of dollars from our tax dollars?’
Obama said the answer lies in a ‘two-state solution,’ which would divide western Palestine into two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab.
Abdelaziz wasn’t satisfied.
‘At first, I was really’disappointed that he didn’t answer my question,’ she said. ‘But when I thought about it later, I knew that it would have been impossible for him to answer. It’s a tough question and I caught him off guard, but I still feel like I went there to do’something and I got it done.’
Obama’s visit wasn’t the only political event in the area this weekend.
While Obama spoke at UT, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced at the USF Sun Dome his proposal to add an additional $100 million to the education budget through the Board of Governors’ New Florida Initiative, which will implement education-based, long-term investments to improve Florida’s economy.
And conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, who discussed Obama and his policies, also spoke at the Sun Dome on Friday.
‘What I really like about Obama is his deep sense of humility. He truly is a piece of ‘hellip; work,’ Beck said at the event.
Soltero said hearing Obama speak of his initiative made a positive impact.
‘I admire President Barack Obama as a political leader and I observe him every time he speaks because I learn from him, how he carries himself and how he’s able to present a hard message in the face of hard issues, to Democrats, Republicans, young people and older citizens,’ Soltero said. ‘To see him live, when you see him all the time on CNN, was a pretty moving experience.’