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Students optimistic about longest speech efforts

A group of students plan to break speech records starting today in an effort to raise voter concerns on education and immigration issues.

Student body President Cesar Hernandez will begin his 24-hour political speech today at 10 a.m. outside of Cooper Hall, attempting to best Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s record for the longest political speech, which was about eight hours.

His goal is to convince President Barack Obama to hear students’ concerns and come speak at the University.

Hernandez said following his speech at least 90 students are scheduled to speak for at least 30 minutes each on topics ranging from educational budget cuts to immigration reform. They are hoping to beat a separate record for the longest team speech, which was about 75 hours, Hernandez said.

However, the political impact of the speeches is uncertain.

Susan MacManus, a professor of public administration and political science, said the student’s message may only reach district-level legislators.

“There are millions of people in Florida and this is one group that is expressing an opinion,” she said. “Obviously, legislators represent different kinds of districts. It will get attention more for its longevity and their record-breaking nature of the event rather than the substance itself. Obviously, for the legislators in the Tampa Bay area this is something they will pay attention to.”

MacManus said whether or not other districts are impacted depends on the legislators that represent them.

“Every district has its different make up. You have an elderly (population) in South Florida. That Legislature from that area is probably not going to be as attentive to something going on at USF as they look to college students in their area. Legislators are very localistic,” she said. “They respond to constituents in their immediate geographical district that they represent. So if you want something like this to work it would have to be coordinated across the entire state and not all legislative districts have a large university in it.”

MacManus said it’s not that legislators ignore student constituents, just that they receive the same concerns from other demographics.

“Anything that USF (does) always gets a local legislative attention. They are getting input from many other different kinds of groups, not just students, and they have to lay it all against a $3.9 billion budget shortfall,” she said. “The bottom line is they have tough choices to make and they often, in tough situations, cut a little bit of everything.”

Hernandez said he is not even thinking about the possibility of not reaching his goal for the legislators to hear students and for Obama to come to the University.

“I know what the end game is and I’m putting everything into it,” Hernandez said, referencing his hope for the best outcome possible. “For me, I can’t even think of that … there’s no turning back. They’re going to hear and President Obama is going to be here.”

Hernandez said he contacted Guinness World Records and they said the weeklong speech must be completely documented and videotaped, and then processed by the company.

Hernandez said he is not eating or drinking prior to his speech and will sleep for about 10 hours.

“I’m not going to eat or drink anything so that I don’t have to go to the restroom,” he said. “If I have to go to the restroom I will walk and talk at the same time, and I’ll have the cameras follow me so they can see that I’m still talking, and come back to commence. I’m going to try to drink water … but the more water that I drink the more that I have to go to the restroom. I’m asking people if they want to bring me something, bring me a smoothie.”

Hernandez said University Police are aware of the speeches and local media outlets will be there. He hopes that students can submit about 500 CNN iReport stories in order to obtain national media attention.

MacManus said in order for there to be a national impact, there must be extensive media coverage.

“Media coverage is essential to this kind of event, otherwise it’s difficult for a legislator to realize the magnitude of the gathering – how many people are there, the passion and how many people are at the event … but again, there are a lot of different groups vying for media attention,” she said. “It’s easier sometimes to get messages through when times are good and things can get done, but now everybody (is) scrambling for the limited amount of dollars out there. It’s very difficult for one group to prevail.”

One of the students lined up to speak is Michael Martinez, a senior majoring in business management, who said he is scheduled to participate Wednesday night.

“My (speech) is more on a personal basis,” he said. “My mother was actually an illegal immigrant about 25 years ago and the trouble she went through (in) her life to get a better life for me, and in Columbia she lived in an apartment with three of her siblings, her father and mother in a one-bedroom apartment. That’s something that inspires me now that I am a college student and actually progressing in my life. The pride that they take in actually manifests all the struggles they had … its very inspiring. Every action that I take always reflects upon them.”

In regards to politics, Martinez said he would advocate against any immigration reform that hinders immigrant families’ ability to live and work in the U.S.

Ariana Avila, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, said she plans to speak for 30 minutes to an hour Thursday and is advocating for immigration reform, such as the passage of the DREAM Act,

“We’re hoping to keep this going for a few days,” she said. “I know I am … talking about immigration reform. I feel it’s important because I am from a migrant family, so just things like that are really important to me.”