ARLINGTON,Va. – The scene resembled a concert. High school students climbed onto each other's backs,snapped pictures and roughoused while they waited more than an hour for Sen. Hillary Clinton to arrive.
The Washington-Lee High school gym,which seats 2,200 people,was filled to capacity with students and other community members who came to hear the presidential candidate speak Thursday,five days before the Virginia presidential primary.
Before the speech,Lina Ewell,16,despite being too young to vote,said she is impressed that Clinton visited a high school to reach young voters,especially since “Obama is known for reaching out to young people.”
In her advanced placement U.S. government class at Washington-Lee,which is ranked 31st in U.S. high schools by Newsweek, Ewell said nearly everyone supports Barack Obama.
“Republicans don't matter,” she said laughing.
Principal Gregg Robertson said 1,200 out of the school's 1,540 students attended the event,which was a chance for them “to be on the front lines of the presidential election process.”
“When she offered,I thought,‘What better way for the kids to learn about the process firsthand?” he said. “Just the hoopla itself was a great thing for them to be a part of.”
Clinton,after apologizing for being late,dived into her speech,talking about students' lives and the work they put into their classes,sports teams and other school organizations to better themselves and make a difference in their school and in their future.
“I like to think of the next generation,” Clinton said. “What's going to happen in America will determine what the students here have to look forward to. I want our tomorrows to be better than todays.”
Clinton spoke shortly after Mitt Romney's withdrawal from the Republican race at the Conservative Political Action Conference across the Potomac River in Washington and focused her speech on John McCain,who became the presumptive nominee.
“I have the greatest respect for my friend and my colleague Senator McCain,but he offers more of the same,” Clinton said. “He said he could see having American troops in Iraq for 100 years.”
Talking to the young voters,Clinton promised to work toward raising federal education grants,such as Pell grants,and making college more affordable. Student loan companies are “ripping off students,” she said. She also said returning military personnel need money for housing,education and other needs,which had the crowd cheering and stomping on the bleachers.
He said he found the speech interesting and well written,but he was disappointed.
“I thought she was going to answer questions,” said Seyoum,who had prepared a list for the senator.
One topic on Seyoum's list was immigration. He wanted to hear more about Clinton's plan because,as a nation,he said the U.S. should welcome people from other countries and not underestimate their value.
“They do more for this economy than people think,” he said.
Seyoum said he is still unsure whom he will vote for on Tuesday,but is leaning toward Clinton.
“What's drawing me towards Clinton right now is experience,” Seyoum said. “I think America in general has a very difficult decision ahead of itself.”