Michigan Tech Students Meet President Obama in Ghana
July 16, 2009—
Eight students from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies’ Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership at Michigan Technological University are in Ghana this summer working on community development projects. Last weekend, they had the experience of a lifetime. Not only did they get front-row seats to President Barack Obama’s appearance in the capital city of Accra; several of the students got to meet President and Mrs. Obama and shake their hands.
They have posted a blog about their experiences. Here are some excerpts from it.
“Before coming to Ghana, our group had learned that President Obama would be in Accra while we were here. We decided as a group that, if possible, we would like to see him speak.
"When we arrived here, the country was already preparing for his visit. His name was mingled in with Twi (a language spoken in Ghana) on the radio news, and we heard more than one song created for him playing on Kumasi's stations. Children, men, and women would approach us just to say that Obama was a good man. It took us all by surprise, the Obama-fever in the air.”
… “After we finished teaching classes on Thursday, the group packed up our Sunyani Hostel rooms and caught the bus back to Kumasi.
"We woke up early the next morning and walked to Tech Junction (in Kumasi) to meet Lord and Sandra (Ghanaian graduate students who would be joining them for a few days). At the junction, we were greeted by a billboard welcoming President Obama to Ghana, even though he was only scheduled to visit Accra and Cape Coast.
"Lord found us a bus (to Accra) in the central market, and the bus filled slowly but surely. We learned later that day that the bus driver was getting people on the bus by telling them that there were Americans inside going to meet Mr. Obama. People would climb the stairs of the bus, look at us, and then go back outside to pay the driver the bus fare.
"In Accra, we secured taxis to the Hostel where we would be staying at the University of Ghana. The traffic was unbelievable, and the driver explained to us that it was because of Obama's impending visit. His plane was to arrive in a couple of hours.
"We listened to the radio in the cab, and the only subject was Obama. The airport had been shut down in anticipation of his arrival, and as soon as his plane touched down, he would be taken to the Holiday Inn where he would be staying. The next morning he would address the Parliament, then fly to Cape Coast to see the slave trade castle there and give an address. He would then fly back to Accra, and there would be a farewell ceremony at the airport. Tickets were required to attend the event.
"That night we all felt a bit sad, thinking that there would be no opportunity for us to see our President speak.
… “We started the next day with a trip to the market in Accra. It is one of the biggest markets in Africa, and it would have taken days to see everything in that maze. We met a lot of very nice people there and were also grabbed, touched and poked by many others.
"Obama was everywhere in the city. His face was plastered on billboards, on American flags, and on people's clothes. Everywhere we went, all we heard was ‘Obama.’
One of the Michigan Tech students wanted to see the U.S. Embassy, so they all climbed into taxis.
“When we arrived, we noticed a long line of people standing outside, and they appeared to be Americans. Intrigued, we approached and started talking to them. Somehow we happened to pick a Michigan Tech grad. He explained that they were in the Peace Corps in Ghana, and they were waiting in line for tickets to Obama's farewell ceremony.
"When the Peace Corps had gone through the line, we talked to the embassy official in charge of the tickets. We explained what we were doing in Ghana and asked him if there was any way we too could see Obama. He was interested in our project and promised to do what he could. He made some phone calls and told us that if no more Peace Corps students showed up, we could have the tickets, although he could not guarantee entry into the ceremony.
"We waited anxiously, and our patience and persistence paid off. We were given tickets and boarded one of the buses headed to the ceremony. We were escorted by police to the airport and then joined the long line of people waiting to get through security.
"To our surprise, our tickets got us into the very front section of the audience. We waited for quite some time for the arrival of President Obama and President Mills. The Ghanaians behind us were singing, and we could hear the steady beat of Ghanaian drums preparing for their performance. The anticipation and excitement was overwhelming. Everyone was smiling.
"When Obama and Mills arrived, the fever in the air reached a new level. I cannot begin to describe the excitement. Obama took the stage with President Mills. … President Mills spoke, and then President Obama spoke. The crowd was hushed except for occasional bursts of applause and cheering. Though some may not agree with President Obama's politics, it would be difficult to deny his ability to inspire hope and bring people together.
"Afterwards, both President Obama and the First Lady shook hands with those in the front. Many members of our group were able to shake one or both of their hands. As their plane took off shortly after, with the American flag on the tail of Air Force One illuminated, it was clear to all of us that this would be a night we would never forget.”
The Pavlis Institute at Michigan Tech offers unique course work that emphasizes combining technology, business, communications and global understanding. Each participant completes an international experience during the summer between his or her junior and senior years. It is modeled on the experiences and skills of Michigan Tech alumnus Frank Pavlis, who devoted his career to managing innovation worldwide.
Michigan Technological University (www.mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.