MIAMI (CBS4) – The last time President Barack Obama visited Miami Dade College he was not even a candidate for president yet; but he was already a political rock star. Fans lined up down the street to hear Obama discuss his new book, “The Audacity Of Hope,” at the Miami International Book Fair in November, 2006.
“I think he’s wonderful!” squealed one adoring woman as she waited to get into a sold-out house.
What a difference four and a half years, a recession, and a real-estate meltdown can make.
When President Obama addresses graduates of Miami Dade College this Friday night, he brings with him an approval rate hovering around 40 percent as the nation struggles with high unemployment and an economy gasping for renewed life.
He also arrives less than three weeks after striking a budget compromise with Republicans in Congress that includes some cuts to education.
Nevertheless, MDC President Eduardo Padron is thrilled that “the most powerful figure in the world” is going to address several thousand of his graduates.
“We are excited. We feel very privileged,” Padron told CBS4′s Gary Nelson on Tuesday. “We feel that the President understands the impact of education for the agenda of this nation. Without education, we will not be able to compete in the global economy.”
Padron said the federal government’s funding of education is minor compared to the obligation the states have, and he decried the continued budget cuts being imposed by Tallahassee.
The graduates President Obama will speak to Friday are from MDC’s North campus that serves a largely lower income, inner-city student body. Among cuts Obama agreed to in the budget compromise were reductions in summer Pell grants that provide aid to low income college students.
Obama successfully fought off an effort by Republicans to scale back Pell grants altogether, but Tuesday, some students expressed a feeling of betrayal by a President who campaigned on a theme of “change you can believe in.”
“I did vote for him, but I think he’s not really delivering what he promised all of us,” said student Jeremy Mendez. “I should have voted for Hillary.”
Chris Saud, who will graduate this week with a degree in criminal justice, said he viewed the Obama visit as spin.
“I think him coming down here is like him trying to make up,” Saud said, “trying to show he actually cares about the schools and make up for mistakes in terms of budget cuts.”
The president has conceded that he agreed to cuts he would have refused had times been different.
“Both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them, and I certainly did that,” Obama said in announcing the budget deal on April 8th.
Most students at the MDC North campus Tuesday expressed delight at the President’s impending visit.
“A lot of people think of Miami Dade as a lesser college,” said Candace Gray, who is receiving her degree in psychology. “The President taking his time to come to our graduation for an address, I think, is really special.”
Michelle Serphy, graduating with a degree in special education, said she was “thrilled” at the prospect of seeing and hearing from the President, adding that she is most proud of having achieved her degree.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this day all my life,” Michelle said.