By TINA IRGANG, SHARMINA MANANDHAR, and CHRISTOPHER M. MATTHEWS
COLLEGE PARK (Sept. 18, 2009)—President Obama's health care rally at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center Thursday drew thousands of bright-eyed college students who chanted and cheered as they waited in massive lines to enter the venue, while small but vocal groups of protesters gathered outside.
Once inside, cameras flashed and the crowd roared throughout the president's speech, even coming to Obama's defense when a heckler tried to shout him down.
On the rest of the 1,200-acre campus, students mostly went about business as usual, going to class and finishing homework.
Geri Salmon, 21, a senior sociology major, arrived at Comcast at 5:30 am to support the president.
"I just think universal health care is as important as education," Salmon said. "This reform will be a new start for this country. Obama has the ability to change the world."
Others, like heckler Andrew Beacham, a 26-year old intern for Operation Rescue Insurrecta Nex, disagreed.
"I did it because the emperor has no clothes," said Beacham, in an interview hours after being ejected. "Every time the government puts forth a new proposal, they just find different ways to fund abortion."
Law enforcement officials removed Beacham and briefly detained him after Obama supporters jeered him and one spat at him.
Beacham's Washington, D.C.- based anti-abortion group also staged a protest skit outside Comcast, claiming Obama would pay for his plan by killing off the elderly.
Many students were just trying to get on with their day.
"I would've gone to the rally, but I had three classes this morning," said Jonathan Macry, a sophomore criminal justice major.
Other students experienced minor disruptions.
"I walked to school this morning rather than taking the bus because I heard shuttles were taking detours and the schedule would be disrupted," said Danielle Marshall, a junior biology major.
Joel Solorzano, coordinator of customer services of the university's Department of Transportation, said some shuttles had been delayed by a few minutes due to traffic, "but it's not too bad."
Communications senior Daniel Winterroth spent the morning staffing the front desk at the Stamp Student Union, normally a busy campus hub.
"It's been a lot quieter than usually," Winterroth said. "There's definitely fewer people."
Around 30 students gathered in the Stamp basement to watch Obama's speech on a big screen TV. Many of those in attendance sat in front of the screen with laptops, finishing work for their next class. Others downed a quick lunch.
Donna Yang, a freshman education major, was studying for a geology exam she had in 20 minutes. While class took precedent, she still wanted to see the president's speech.
"I just kind of wanted to see what he had to say," Yang said.
Delante Davis, a junior and mechanical engineering major, couldn't attend the speech in person but made a point of coming to Stamp to watch.
"If I didn't have to work, I'd be there," Davis said.
The viewing was a subdued affair. Students occasionally clapped at one of Obama's talking points or laughed at his jokes. Most who saw the speech thought the president performed well.
Not everyone was concerned about health care, though.
"For me, right now, I don't see it as an important issue. I guess it comes with age," said Brian Vandegrift, a freshman who has not decided on a major.
But many were like Lisa Scott, a sophomore psychology major, who said that before the speech she had been unaware of the president's proposal to allow students to remain on their parents' insurance policy until the age of 26.
"That really helps take off a lot of the stress since the job market is so bad right now," Scott said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.