UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

First Lady at Fleming

When First Lady Michelle Obama took the podium in Fleming Gymnasium on Aug. 1, she joined a list of first ladies who have visited UNCG.

In 1964, Lady Bird Johnson stopped during a whistle-stop train tour. She stepped off the train behind Curry Building, as helicopters flew overhead, and spoke at a platform on a sports field. She was campaigning as part of her husband Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign, and was accompanied by her daughter Lynda. A campaign spokesman told the Carolinian student newspaper that the stop would give the UNCG students a “glimpse of what may be the last of the old-fashioned whistle-stop trains, as well as the first one on which the major campaigner was a president’s wife.” The topic of her remarks, as well as her daughter’s: education.

She had visited the campus once before, during the 1960 presidential campaign, in the company of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s mother, Rose Kennedy. The two women held a news conference a month before the election and were guests at a campaign tea, both events in Alumni House.

Two decades earlier, another First Lady visited the campus. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at chapel on campus March 21, 1945. The Carolinian reported she also held a press conference in Chancellor W.C. Jackson’s office, speaking about issues of veterans and war and peace. She composed her “My Day” newspaper column in Winfield Hall and attended a tea in her honor in the Weil-Winfield ballroom. Her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had begun his fourth presidential term, and his health was failing. He would die in Warm Springs, Ga., on April 12.

She had also visited this campus in November of 1931, a year before her husband was elected president. The Carolinian, whose subhead described her as “famous wife of famous man,” indicates she gave two lectures in Aycock Auditorium: one on business opportunities for women and one on “the necessary qualities of the woman in business.”

She was a friend of Dean Harriet Elliott, namesake of Elliott University Center. In a final visit to UNCG, Mrs. Roosevelt delivered the Harriet Elliott Memorial Lecture in February 1953 in Aycock Auditorium. A former United States delegate to the United Nations, she stressed the value of the United Nations, a Carolinian notes.

Michelle Obama’s speech inside UNCG’s Fleming Gymnasium on Aug. 1 marked the first visit by a first lady since the ‘60s. Her appearance, co-sponsored by the UNCG College Democrats and Obama for America Campaign, came with fewer than 100 days before the presidential election, as she noted. Costs associated with the event were paid for by the Obama for America Campaign.

Part of Walker Avenue and Parking Lot 9 near the baseball stadium were closed for part of the day, with traffic detoured. Otherwise, campus life continued normally.

Alexandra Marchesano, director of Campus Activities and Programs, notes the value of students learning about the political process, how to organize, how to conduct large events. The campus welcomes participation from all candidates and all parties – in addition to non-partisan events, she explains.

Among those attending the Obama event – with a great view from the bleachers behind the podium – were students taking part in the German-American Fulbright Summer Institute at UNCG.

As the crowd streamed out after Mrs. Obama’s speech – accented by bright TV lights and intro and outro music – Felix Hansen, a Fulbright summer institute student from Saxony, Germany, marveled that the event was “pretty different than a German campaign.”

How so? More like a rock show experience, he explained. He was particularly struck by how long the line was to get in.

Mustafa Solak, a Fulbright summer institute student from Berlin, explained in Germany you’d have dozens of political parties, not the two major ones Americans have. He noted that all 25 of the German students were able to attend the campaign event. For them, it was an educational, close-up look at American politics.

And for the campus, another historic event.

By Mike Harris
Photography by Chris English. Before addressing the crowd, Michelle Obama embraced student Keylin Rivera, who’d introduced her. The event was co-sponsored by the UNCG College Democrats and the Obama for America Campaign. Costs associated with the event were paid for by the Obama for America Campaign.