By now, everyone and his mom know that Sen. Barack Obama subbed for an ailing Ted Kennedy and spoke at Wesleyan's commencement this past weekend. The speech itself was typical graduation fodder delivered with typical Obama élan. But the frenzy that descended upon the tiny 2,700-student Connecticut school kept university officials extraordinarily busy in the 2½ days they had to plan Obama's surprise visit.
According to media relations director David Pesci, the school received 157 requests for press credentials (typical number: 15 to 20) within the first six hours after the Obama announcement was made Thursday—one from as far away as Japan.
Meanwhile, two months of planning—such as making a very open football field secure enough for a presidential candidate and setting up a live television feed in a forum with no electricity—was squeezed into a handful of days. One reporter even predicted up to 70,000 people attending an event that normally accommodates 8,000. Luckily, only 20,000 or so showed up.
But the lost sleep of university officials most likely didn't register with euphoric graduates and guests, who were treated to the only commencement speech in the country by a presidential candidate (as far as I can tell). Although some could have done without any allusions to Obama's potential future ("As president, I intend to..."), students mostly went gaga over his message of public service. "At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again," he said. "I hope you'll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naive about your impulse to change the world."