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Building a legacy

Obama visits Mizzou, reaches out to the next generation of leaders

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  • Story by Karen Pojmann
  • Photos by Shane Epping and Nic Benner
  • Published: Oct. 31, 2008
Obama speaking

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Photo captions

  1. Volunteers Ashley Shaw (left) and Oghosa Iyamu prepare for presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s stop on the MU campus five days before the election. It’s the first time a presidential candidate has visited Mizzou since President George H.W. Bush was here in 1992. Photo by Nic Benner.
  2. Lines begin forming early in the morning for an event scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. and culminate in Obama’s 9:30 p.m. speech. Photo by Shane Epping.
  3. Before his speech, Obama meets with MU officials, state and local public servants, and a few citizens in a backstage tent secured by Secret Service agents. Photo by Shane Epping.
  4. MU Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton (center) and Board of Curators Chairwoman Cheryl Walker greet the visitor before he heads to the podium. Photo by Shane Epping.
  5. Obama autographs a poster for Missouri State Sen. Chuck Graham. Photo by Shane Epping.
  6. The candidate poses with MU College Democrats President Caitlin Ellis, a Mizzou senior who helped organize the event. Photo by Shane Epping.
  7. A Secret Service agent stands guard behind a United States flag. The Secret Service was a presence on campus for days leading up to the rally. Photo by Shane Epping.
  8. Obama’s campaign estimates the rally attracted 40,000 people.  Those who couldn’t get onto Carnahan Quadrangle clustered against barriers across Rollins Street and spilled off the lawn toward Jesse Hall. Photo by Shane Epping.
  9. Young adults constituted the largest group of rally attendees. Missouri speakers and Obama made a point of educating and inspiring college-age voters. Photo by Nic Benner.
  10. Jesse Hall serves as a backdrop for the event on Carnahan Quadrangle. Photo by Shane Epping.
  11. Obama greets the crowd. Photo by Shane Epping.
  12. After his speech, Obama mingles with supporters amid a barrage of cameras. Photo by Nic Benner.
  13. Obama returns to his car to wrap up his last week of campaigning. Photo by Nic Benner.
  14. After Obama’s departure, the crowd is still riled. The rally ran until about 10 p.m. on the unusually warm October night. Photo by Shane Epping.

When Sen. Barack Obama stopped at Mizzou during the last week of his campaign for President of the United States, Columbians greeted him with something more than a politician’s rally. 

With a mere three days to prepare after the Obama campaign contracted with the University to hold a gathering here, the sponsoring MU College Democrats worked with campaign and campus staff to set the stage for a happening that merged big-event brouhaha (live music, bright lights, gargantuan words against a Jesse Hall backdrop) with folksy Midwestern charm (carved pumpkins and hay bales on the stage, the “M-I-Z” call and response) while accommodating a crowd of as many as 40,000 people.

The event that emerged was a call to young people to participate in the electoral process.

Local leadership

The rally’s location near Tiger Plaza was chosen because it “shows one of the most beautiful parts of Mizzou,” says MU College Democrats President Caitlin Ellis, a Mizzou senior English major.

The spot’s historical significance was lost on neither the speakers nor the crowd. The podium was set up on Carnahan Quadrangle, named for Mel Carnahan, an MU Law School graduate and former Missouri governor who died in a 2000 plane crash. Behind the stage loomed Strickland Hall, named for Arvarh Strickland, Mizzou’s first African American professor. 

Robin Carnahan

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnhan talks to the Obama rally crowd about voter education on Carnahan Quadrangle, which was named for father, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan.

The choice moved Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, daughter of the late governor.

“My dad was such a dedicated leader. He was dedicated to this state, and he was dedicated to this university,” Carnahan said. “I know he is proud to look down on this place and see this many people.”

Carrying on the legacy of their predecessors, current and future leaders were on hand to speak to the crowd. Carnahan and Ellis were joined by First Christian Church's Rev. John Yonker, State Rep. Judy Baker, Attorney General Jay Nixon and State Auditor Susan Montee. Back stage MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton, Board of Curators Chairwoman Cheryl Walker, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman and State Sen. Chuck Graham waited to greet the senator.

Empowered youth

Speakers strove to inspire the next generation of leaders and citizens, advocating civic responsibility and urging the heavily student-populated crowd to vote.

“America’s youth will rise to the challenges we face,” Ellis said. “When I look around at my fellow students, I see leaders. I see the members of Sustain Mizzou constantly promoting a more environmentally friendly way of life; the volunteers from A Way With Words and Numbers striving to ensure every elementary school student in Columbia is getting the help they need; and our Greek communities’ endless philanthropic efforts.”

She urged students to prove wrong the political pundits who are skeptical about a high young-voter turnout.

Hundreds of hands went up when Carnahan asked how many attendees were first-time voters. Noting that 40 percent of new voters are ages 18-24, she walked the crowd through the process, providing a nonpartisan list of dos and don’ts and directing citizens to a voter-education Web site,

When Obama arrived at the podium in the Missouri speakers' wake, his half-hour speech also held words of wisdom for young voters that crossed party lines.

“All of us are proud. All of us are patriots,” Obama told the crowd. “I look at this younger generation ... You can remake the world. You imagine not what is but what might be.”

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Last updated: June 6, 2013