The Day Michelle Obama Visited UMES

  • Michelle Obama picBarack Obama’s ability to inspire young people to turn out at the polls in 2008 was crucial to his election as the nation’s first black president, historians and political pundits agree.

    Feb. 11, 2008 at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore was a shining example of that strategy.   

    The Obama campaign dispatched Michelle Obama to a campus rally the day prior to Maryland’s presidential primary, which her husband won overwhelmingly.   

    A wildly enthusiastic, capacity crowd packed the 1,167-seat Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts to greet the future First Lady. An estimated 300 others witnessed her remarks on a closed-circuit broadcast provided to handle the overflow, according to press reports from that day.   

    "We need leadership to bring us together, not pull us apart,” Mrs. Obama told supporters.   

    It was a day participants hoped might be historic for UMES.    

    “Having (the candidate’s) wife here was very exciting," senior Jelila Jones told the Baltimore Sun. "When you have a lady as inspirational as that, it left an impression on all of us."   

    Sophomore Devin Robertson told The Sun that "lots of us have seen the debates on big screens in the auditorium, but having her here in person is so much better. The students have just taken to Barack. Everywhere, all you hear is `Barack, Barack, Barack.'"   

    The Sun also interviewed Carolyn Shackleford, who told the newspaper she had never seen students so focused in her 15 years as a UMES faculty member. “This is a moment they are going to remember forever."   

    Mrs. Obama spoke for about 40 minutes. A banner with the 2008 campaign’s slogan, “Change We Can Believe In” hung from a deep red curtain behind her.   

    "I know that the kind of leadership we need now has to look so fundamentally different from anything that we have seen before," she said. "We need a little inspiration and a whole lot of hope right now, because our souls are broken as a nation."   

    Mrs. Obama was the second First Lady to speak at UMES. Eleanor Roosevelt delivered the institution’s 1954 commencement address.   

    Mrs. Obama described the 2008 presidential primary campaign as “a journey of faith, sacrifice and dedication,” The Sun reported.   

    “We are still a country struggling with our divisions,” she said. “And when you’re isolated, you don’t know each other. You don’t know that our struggles are the same.”   

    “We’ve become afraid of everyone and everything, and the problem with fear is that it cuts us off from the rest of the world. I don’t want a society to be like that.”   

    “We have more work to do, and part of that is because we are a nation (that) is struggling … every day just to get by,” she said. “In 2008, that little nugget of life that people are hoping for is out of reach,” she said.   

    UMES students told reporters covering Mrs. Obama’s visit they had been following media reports about the primary campaign in Maryland.   

    “She kept me enthusiastic,” David Miller told The Daily Times. “She kept me listening.”  

    "We usually don't get too many big names coming to this school," senior Blair Bruton told WBOC. "For me, it was a big thing."   

    A big thing, indeed.


    2008 Maryland presidential primary results