Somehow, while all of us were asleep last week, something happened to our city. Without anyone noticing, we woke up this week having discovered that Jacksonville was now considered “important,” to the election — important enough at least to attract the attention of two big names in politics, who decided to visit at the same time. Even stranger than Jacksonville itself having this honor bestowed upon it, was that our humble University of North Florida was chosen to play host to a man you may have heard of before, President Barack Obama. As a UNF alum myself, I can assure you that this was shocking news to everyone with any passing familiarity with the school.
Immediately, several pressing questions weighed on my mind. “The president has heard of UNF? Doesn’t he know we don’t even have a football team? Where will he park? Where will anyone park? WHY?” I wondered. Granted, it’s been a few years since I’ve roamed the campus, and it was, at the time, hardly on par with what most people would think of as a “real” university.
In the name of investigative journalism, I showed up to see Obama speak to find out the answers to my questions. The vibe on campus this Thursday was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It felt alive. Driving to UNF, I thought of all those years ago when campus was always quiet, especially at night. Events rarely happened, celebrities rarely showed up, we didn’t have a student union to go hang out in. Most of my classes had fewer than 20 students. There weren’t a whole lot buildings at all if you didn’t count the ones that were under construction. There were more geese than people in those days, yet there was still never a place to park. The most exciting thing you’d see on a Thursday back then was some crazy fanatic getting escorted off campus by the police for shouting too loudly from the green.
When I turned into campus this Thursday, however, I was surprised by what I saw. Immediately, of course, I realized there were thousands of people lined up on the sidewalk all the way down the main road, from the arena almost to the library. In-between all those people, I saw several beautiful new buildings that didn’t exist 5 years ago. The sad old gym, which had been torn down while I was a student, had been replaced by a work of modern art. When I walked into this surprisingly fancy building, I spotted a rock climbing wall and was hit with a pang of weird jealousy. I’ve never climbed anything in my life, but I still want one of those.
The rally itself was as all political rallies are. Lots of excitement, lots of cheering and screaming, lots of optimism and promises. It was, of course, thrilling to be in the same building as a sitting president. Whatever you think of his policies or associations with a certain party, you cannot deny that he is a compelling speaker. But nothing could have prepared me for the historical moment I witnessed before me, as the 44th President of the United States did the swoop.
— UNF Spinnaker (@UNFspinnaker) November 3, 2016
The swoop is a tradition at UNF, an odd, full-body gesture meant to represent the way an actual osprey definitely does not swoop. The swoop makes everyone doing it look really silly, and it’s one of the more embarrassing college sports-related moves. Yet here he was, the leader of our nation and arguably the most down-to-earth person that has ever sat in the oval office, doing the swoop. Several UNF students I spoke to were dissatisfied with his execution, but it was a swoop nonetheless.
Once upon a time, I would tell people that I went to UNF and they would ask me where that was. The school has gained a lot more name recognition since the successes of their basketball team, but now many more will surely have heard of it. If they haven’t, I’ll just say “it’s where President Obama once swooped,” and leave it at that.
UNF has grown a lot in the last few years, and my opinion of it certainly changed after seeing it like this. Brand new shiny buildings everywhere, more parking lots than ever, not a goose in sight and thousands of people stirred up by what was unfolding on their campus. It took a visit from the President for me to realize that UNF is a lot more than the mediocre commuter school it once was. There’s still no football team, but the people in charge seem to have much bigger plans in mind, and that’s just fine.