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Students, faculty push to bring Obama for commencement

President Barack Obama at Rutgers—Newark on Nov. 2, 2015. He discussed some of the lessons he learned throughout his two terms as the 44th President of the United States. – Photo by Marielle Sumergido

“Dear Mr. President.”

So begins the letter sent from Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi inviting the leader of the nation, President Barack Obama, to speak at Rutgers' 250th anniversary commencement ceremony.

Although the University invited Obama to speak at the school’s upcoming commencement ceremony this May two years ago, the president has not yet responded.

But students and faculty at Rutgers are still working hard to gain Obama’s attention and convince him to visit Hub City this spring. Through the use of social media and various connections, these students and staff remain hopeful that they can bring the White House to the Banks of the Old Raritan.

“The (invitation) was brought to Obama’s attention a couple of years ago, so now we are just rekindling the flame,” said Steve Shimchick, support and research coordinator for Rutgers 250.

Conor Risi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, and Jessica Dotson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, are two students at RU-tv leading a video project with the goal of getting Obama’s attention.

The video will capture students’ voices on the best aspects of Rutgers, along with why Obama should pay the school a visit. After it is completed, the video will be sent to the White House and posted on social media to gain traction.

An online petition will also accompany the video.

“A lot of students don’t know about (the invitation extended to Obama), so (the video is) the first step,” Shimchick said.

The efforts to bring the president to High Points Solutions Stadium do not end there. Noted New Jersey politicians have also taken a crack at it.

On Dec. 23, 2013, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) led members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation in sending a letter to President Obama, urging him to accept the invitation to speak at Rutgers’ 250th commencement.

In addition to Pallone and Menendez, 10 other U.S. politicians also signed the letter, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

A portion of the letter emphasized Rutgers’ diversity.

“Rutgers prides itself on its commitment to diversity and has been recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the nation,” reads the letter. “Additionally, Rutgers is committed to introducing first-generation, low-income, and academically motivated students."

There are also plans to gain the Rutgers University Student Assembly's support, Shimchick said.

“That’s the highest form of student government, essentially, so having their support will make it easier to build general support,” he said. “Student involvement is definitely growing as we move forward.”

While the University is waiting for a response from the White House, Assistant Director of Rutgers 250 April Coage remains optimistic that Obama will accept the invitation.

In 250 years, no other sitting U.S. president has spoken at commencement, which Coage said makes the possibility of Obama’s visit even more special.

“We’re really making history here, to have a U.S. president give us well wishes during the 250th anniversary. We’re not giving up hope,” Coage said. “It is his last year in office ... We’re just going to push forward and see how things go.”

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