When first lady Michelle Obama walked onstage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, she said one word: “Wow.”
She had reason to be impressed. About 10,750 people — including UF students, Santa Fe College students and Gainesville residents of all ages — showed up to watch the first lady speak after claiming free tickets last week.
Monday afternoon, the arena buzzed with excitement. Signs dotted the red, white, and orange and blue crowd. The audience sent the wave in circles, cheering and chanting “four more years” and “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.”
At about 4 p.m., UF student Alex Masi introduced Obama. The crowd went wild as she took the stage, and it reached a roar as she started doing the Gator chomp.
Obama opened by talking about her husband’s character and then elaborated, touching on issues like women’s rights, health care, student finances and the economy.
“When it comes time to make those tough calls and everyone’s urging you to do what’s easy, or what polls best, or what gets good headlines, as president, you need to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve,” Obama said.
The first lady’s 30-minute speech was occasionally interrupted by shouts such as “I love you, Michelle!”
She emphasized voter registration, saying that about 36 votes per precinct made the difference in the 2008 election.
“Especially for students — if you’ve just moved, if you haven’t reregistered, you’ve got to think about your situation,” Obama said. “Don’t assume that you’re registered.”
Acknowledging that Election Day hours could impede some students from getting to the polls, Obama went off-script to urge people to cast their ballots.
“Pretend I’m not the first lady,” she said. “I’m like your mother. You’ve got to vote.”
After the event, attendees flooded the streets.
Missy Goldstein, a 21-year-old Jewish studies senior, said the experience was inspiring.
“She just had everyone in the palm of her hand,” she said. “The second she went up there, people were silent and ready to listen.”
Materials science and engineering senior Claudia Sotomayor, 22, said she could tell Obama was passionate about the issues she addressed.
“You hear her talk, and you feel a rush of blood to your head,” Sotomayor said.
First lady Michelle Obama does the Gator chomp after arriving at the lectern in front of about 11,000 people Monday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.