Ticket or not, many excited about Obama's visit to UI campus


Listen to this article

URBANA — Jake Elling is among the lucky 1.7 percent.

The University of Illinois sophomore was one of 756 students out of roughly 45,000 on the Urbana campus randomly selected to see former President Barack Obama speak at Foellinger Auditorium on Friday.

"When I first saw my ticket, I was really excited. I couldn't believe it at first," he said Wednesday. "I realized it was kind of special when none of the dozen people around me got tickets. It definitely reminded me of the golden tickets scenes from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.'"

UI officials said they've received "overwhelming" demand for seats, both from students and media.

The speech is garnering national attention, with Obama expected to use it to kick off his midterm campaigning, warning against "authoritarian" politics and urging Americans to vote. He's scheduled to fly to California afterward and attend an event for seven Democratic House candidates on Saturday, according to Politico.

The program for the event, and the guest list besides students, were still being worked out on Wednesday, officials said.

Obama is not receiving any honorarium for the speech, UI officials said. He will receive a medal for the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government at a private ceremony following the Foellinger event.

In all, 944 students were chosen to attend the speech through campuswide lotteries, including 141 from the UI Chicago and 47 from Springfield.

That prompted some questions from students in Urbana, where more than 22,000 signed up for the ticket lottery.

"I think it was somewhat unfair that UIC and UIS students could also apply for tickets, since it's not their campus that Obama is visiting, and they could make it harder for UIUC students to get a ticket," Elling said.

UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the Douglas Award is presented by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, a systemwide organization within the UI, so it was opened to students from all three campuses.

"President Obama indicated he wanted this to be a student-focused speech and event, so all universities of the University of Illinois system are participating in this event on Friday," Hardy said. That decision was made by President Tim Killeen and the IGPA, he said.

The UI Springfield is chartering a bus to bring students over to Urbana, according to spokesman Derek Schnapp. Hardy said he believed similar arrangements were being made at the Chicago campus.

Viewing parties for students who didn't get in are also scheduled, at Huff Hall in Urbana and on both the east and west campuses in Chicago, Hardy said.

Sophomore Jack Lillig was one of those who missed out on the chance to see Obama.

"I didn't really think that I would get a ticket, but it would have been really cool just to be there and see him," said Lillig, who plans to watch or listen to the speech online with his buddies.

He was a little disappointed that Obama didn't choose a larger venue.

"There's 40,000 people at Illinois, and I'm sure the majority of them would want to see him if possible," he said.

Like Lillig, sophomore Dom Pavon said he didn't really expect to get a seat, given the odds.

"I'm not too upset about it," said Pavon, who plans to watch it online or attend the viewing party at Huff "if I wake up in time."

"That's half the battle, just being able to watch it while everyone else is," he said.

For both the main event at Foellinger and the viewing party at Huff, doors open at 9 a.m., and no one will be admitted after 10:30 a.m.

Students have to show a university ID and won't be able to bring backpacks, bags, signs, megaphones, food, drinks or umbrellas inside, or "any other items that university police determine pose a risk to safety or a disruption of the event." Cellphones will be allowed.

Elling has connected with two other students who got tickets, so they're going as a group.

"I've never seen Obama or any other figure like that in person before, so it should be really cool," Elling said.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).