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Wait, have you heard? I mean, it’s only been all over the news, and is the talk of campus … President Obama visited on Friday, giving an address on clean energy. As prestigious as MIT is, and as brilliant as some of the professors are, we still get super-excited when something like this happens.

After finding out about the visit the weekend before, MIT went into scramble mode, which is always fun to watch. Scramble mode is like when you have 10 minutes before your parents come upstairs to see if you’ve cleaned your room. People were repairing buildings, pressure-washing everything in sight, replacing windows, emptying stores of hazardous chemicals, and beautifying MIT just as fast as they possibly could.

I enjoyed watching how MIT prioritized what was being cleaned (you could pretty much predict the route Obama was going to take based on how clean the sidewalk was), but I expected that to be the extent of my Obama Visit Experience. Word on the street was that MIT had received 200 tickets to allocate among faculty, administration, undergraduates, and graduate students. In the end, 50 of those tickets went to undergraduates, typically those who were doing some kind of work with energy. Needless to say, the MechE student who doesn’t have a UROP and would rather build toys than wind farms was not chosen.

So I’d stalk around and try to get some money shots of snipers and motorcades, but actually seeing the president speak was a no-go. That is, until I remembered I write a blog for the Admissions Office so prospective students can see what cool opportunities await them at MIT. This seems like a cool opportunity … I smell a PRESS PASS! Two days and many strings pulled later, guess who had a ticket! WHEEEEE!

The evening before Obama arrived, the Secret Service had taken over MIT. All the garbage cans around Kresge were trucked off, many of the manholes and steam vents were welded shut (seriously), and tons of other invisible-to-me security measures were enacted.

Friday morning I woke up at 7:00 after having gone to bed at 4:30 (PSETs are brutal). I dressed nicely and headed to lab to build some yo-yos for my design and manufacturing class (my team is getting REALLY excited about these yo-yos–they’re actually coming out how we expected, and we’re two weeks ahead of all the other teams), and then went to get in line.

Eavesdropping on people attending an Obama address is AWESOME! Let’s see, I believe the guy in front of me helped renovate Fenway Park, and somebody behind me appeared to know every single congressman ever. I was standing next to Julia ‘13, who also got a ticket, and we chatted about how we were totally out of our element, about how excited we were, about security, about whether we were going to see Marine One or a motorcade, etc.

Oh, speaking of snipers, we spotted one chilling on the Z-center. Eventually we wound our way into the auditorium and toward the metal detector. The security check was relatively routine, until they saw my Smartpen*. The plan was to make a pencast of the address, taking digital notes and recording Obama’s voice. Guess what the Secret Service had never heard of before. My pen. I had to explain what it did and let them pass it around (almost gave them a demo), but eventually they cleared it.

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Credit: Dominick Reuter
Video by Melanie Gonick, MIT News Office; speech footage: AMPS

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