State of the Union: Up close and personal with Obama

Publication Date

The College wasn’t a stop on President Barack Obama’s trip to Schenectady last week, but some members of the Union family were lucky to snag invites to the event at General Electric’s downtown plant.

President Stephen Ainlay, who was among the local dignitaries invited by GE, had the best view when he found himself front and center for Obama’s 20-minute speech. He called the president’s visit “pretty amazing” and even got to chat briefly with him and shake his hand when it was over.

Some 400 people were in the audience for Obama’s speech, which touted GE’s efforts to develop a renewable energy business as a "model for America.”

Working through the White House press office, Tess Koman ’13 and Courtney Steiner ’13 covered the event for the Concordiensis, sharing space with reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other national and regional media outlets.

Erin Villeneuve ’12 didn’t have to go far to see Obama. She has an internship with GE and was selected to attend the event through the company’s lottery.

For some others, it was a fortunate case of Union connections.

In May 2009, actor Kal Penn, of the popular TV series “House” and the “Harold and Kumar” movies, spoke at Union. When Penn, now the associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, heard Obama was headed to Schenectady, he invited Michael Dolinger ’10 and William Friedman ’10, who brought Penn to campus, as his guests. He told them to bring along a few students, which led to invites for Andrew Churchill ’11, Kama Sacajiu ’11 and Andrew Cahill ’12.

Seeing the president in person was “definitely something I never thought I would experience in college,” said Churchill, president of Student Forum. “It was an awesome opportunity.”

Of course, those not lucky enough to see Obama can still have a presidential experience with Union’s own Chester A. Arthur, Class of 1848 and the country’s 21st president.

The College houses a number of artifacts and other memorabilia from Arthur’s days as a student, along with other items such as a walnut and leather writing desk used by President Ainlay.

The Chester Arthur statue stands outside the gate to Jackson’s Garden.