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Crowd, students nearly as impressive as president

POSTED: March 8, 2010 10:58 a.m.
The crowd gathered behind barricades in barely contained anticipation — and in some cases adoration —  Tuesday prior to President Barack Obama’s arrival at Savannah Technical College reminded me of Beatle-mania way back in the 1960s, when four charismatic musicians from Manchester, England, forever changed America’s rock music scene.
The difference, of course, is that the Beatles didn’t have helicopters flying overhead or snipers positioned on area rooftops providing the utmost security.
The waiting throng included folks of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. People were exceedingly polite and well-behaved. There was no screaming or fainting, although I did see a gurney sitting in the auditorium lobby, just in case of a medical emergency.
President Obama exuded confidence during his 16-minute speech inside Savannah Tech’s Eckburg Auditorium. Our leader does have a rock star quality about him.
The president’s “roadies,” harried White House officials and stern Secret Service agents, formed protective rings around our commander-in-chief while eager members of the press — myself included — snapped hundreds of photos or videoed the historic event.
I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest. In addition to the excitement of witnessing history, I had the pleasure of meeting Savannah Technical College students and instructors.
The ones I met seemed to be fans of President Obama and they served as an “opening act” for the president’s speech on jobs, green technology and the economy.
I think technical colleges in this country, like Savannah Tech, deserve to be recognized for the valuable education they provide and I was gratified to see they received their due this week.
My own daughter, a recent graduate of Valdosta State University, is planning to go back to school — to a technical college — for additional training. She has been unable to find a satisfying position and so struggles to make ends meet on a waitress’s salary. Rachel hopes to become a chef, like her uncle and grandfather before her, and wants to specialize in baking and pastry.
I met young — and mature — Savannah Tech students also hoping to be trained in skills that will bring them viable employment and personal satisfaction.
Heating and air student Biron Gavin, 39, of Savannah said hearing the president’s speech meant a lot to him.
He said he wanted to hear what President Obama had to say about the YouthBuild, a program to train at-risk youth in construction and other trade skills, and he hoped to hear more about initiatives to create jobs.
Gavin said he had done jail time in the past for “a crime I did not commit,” and was determined to “get my life back on track.” The Savannah Tech student earns good grades and was recommended by his instructors to attend the event.
He told me the technical college offers a program for students to earn their GED while they learn a trade.
“It’s here for them to try,” Gavin said.
Three marketing students, Kim Bailey, 19, of Ella Bell, Candice Granat, 24, and Eric Brown, 26, both of Savannah, patiently waited two hours in the cold drizzle before they were allowed to enter Eckburg Auditorium.
Bailey, the baby of the group, wasn’t sure what to say about the president’s visit. She was simply happy to be there. She’d never been approached by the press before and I had put her on the spot.
Her two older colleagues had a few more moments to collect their thoughts and offer replies.
“I’m interested in what (the president) has to say, to hear the locals’ questions and his responses,” Granat said.
“President Obama is one of the best speakers of our time,” Brown said.
Elizabeth Estes, 51, of Savannah, attends classes at the Culinary Institute of Savannah. Estes is beginning her second career.
“I was laid off in October 2008,” she said. “I was in human resource management for 20 years.”
When I asked why she chose culinary school at Savannah Tech, she replied, “It’s something I love.”
Savannah Technical College’s instructors were exceptionally busy that day, having made preparations for the president’s visit days — if not weeks — in advance.
Jean Yves Vendeville, a dignified man with a melodic French accent, is in charge of the school’s culinary department. I spoke to him after the president’s speech.
Vendeville said his pastry students helped prepare breakfast for the international press corps. He was also happy to talk about Savannah Tech’s expanding enrollment.
“We (culinary department) have had an increase in enrollment over the past year,” Vendeville said. “In December of 2008 we had 35 students in this (culinary) program. We have 150 students now. What we see with students, a lot of people start a second career.”
The culinary department head said he was encouraged by the administration’s efforts to create jobs.
“Like the president said, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. It’s all about job creation.”
Amen to that! With one of my children out of school — and now hoping to go back — and my youngest a freshman in college, my husband and I want them both to find success in the workforce upon graduation.
Besides, with the way Social Security is going, our kids may be helping to support us 20 years from now.
 

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