Niagara Gazette — When he found out President Barack Obama was speaking at the University at Buffalo Thursday, and the topic was college affordability, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster couldn’t help but think of his administration’s own mission.
Just last year, it created the “Live NF” program, designed to make it easier for recent college graduates to own a home or rent apartments and begin a life after school. It’s a program that resonates precisely with the context of the president’s speech from his podium in Alumni Arena.
He told the president as much when he greeted Obama at the Amherst campus.
“I felt we needed to do something about this locally last year,” Dyster said. “I found it interesting some of his talking points sounded the same as what we were using a year ago. We told you ‘If you study hard, graduate from high school with good grades and go to college, you’ll be set.’ But so many in this generation are doing what we ask them to do and still, it’s not working out. The economy has become almost unaffordable for people.”
Watching the president speak from his seat in the crowd, though, he said he was impressed. He enjoyed the content. He appreciated the number of interruptions by applause. He was struck by the makeup of the crowd gathered around him.
The crowd, designed to feature university students rather than political figures normally the focus of these types of events, was designed to showcase the people he was speaking directly to, he said. The audience soaked it all in, he said, and appeared genuinely interested in what was being explained.
“It was like the president was speaking directly to them,” he said. “Even when he started off, making an observation about the (football) team sitting behind him, about how they had a big opening game coming up (against powerhouse Ohio State) ... I had a feeling looking at the students, I got the sense they knew the president had a sense of understanding their situation.”
Besides Obama, another president was in Alumni Arena. Niagara University Student Government President Matthew Nadler was one of a handful of students representing the Lewiston school Thursday.
Watching himself, he said Obama’s message was clear and concise and one he could easily get behind.
“I liked his ideas he was talking about, like holding the schools accountable (through rankings),” Nadler said. “I liked hearing about how students shouldn’t have to pay more than 10 percent of their income on student loans. I enjoyed the experience and am very happy I had the opportunity to go.”
Joining Nadler inside the arena from the school was his good friend, Andrea Nicolia, who serves as a lead community advisor in her dorm on campus.
Nicolia was also impressed with the message Obama delivered, adding the way he not only addressed the problems but also gave solutions was refreshing.
“I like that he wasn’t negative,” she said. “He addressed the problems we have and said what we need to do to in the future.
“I also thought he was very motivational when he spoke. It was empowering ... the way he talked about the sacrifices we need to be making. It is expensive, but it’s something that’s going to pay off in the long run.”
Inside the packed arena the crowd was definitely motivated. The mood was jovial with the crowd erupting in cheers as Obama was announced. People hooted and hollered throughout the president’s speech, in which he outlined a plan to get ballooning student debt under control.
Afterward, the crowd buzzed as Obama shook hands and kissed a baby on his way back to his bus.
James Battle, a sophomore communications major at the University at Buffalo, joked with a group of fellow students as they exited the arena.
Battle said he found the president’s speech compelling and felt that, being that he is not eligible for another term in office, it was clear that he was not campaigning.
“You could tell this was genuine,” he said. “It’s not just so that we would vote for him. I thought that meant a lot.”
Battle, who supports some of the Obama administration’s policies but has doubts about others, uses federal student loans to help pay for his tuition. The president’s plan makes him more confident that the decision to attend college will pay off, he said.
“Most college students, one of their biggest fears is being able to pay off their loans, especially if they borrow money,” he said. “This is really reassuring.”Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.