At fundraiser, Obama ’85 promises return to alma mater
“I am beyond thrilled to be with all of you today,” Obama said in remarks to donors. “I mean, being back in Princeton — at Princeton — unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a chance to get back on campus, but I’m going to make that happen.”
The event was held at the home of Princeton University Investment Company President Andrew Golden and his wife, Carol. Attendees began arriving around noon and congregated in Golden’s backyard. A tent was set up in the backyard where attendees went to hear Obama and her brother Craig Robinson ’83 speak.
Golden’s house left no questions unanswered about his political affiliations — campaign signs for Democratic candidates Liz Lempert and Rush Holt, for Princeton mayor and U.S. representative, respectively, were placed outside his front door.
Township Police, State Police and Secret Service agents were stationed outside the house and on the streets. A public park right next to Golden’s house was closed for the event, and the police blocked off the road when Obama’s motorcade arrived.
According to a valet parker at the event, staff were told that about 350 people would be attending. Of those, 20 were classified as VIPs and received valet parking service. All other attendees had to park their cars in the public park next door.
A pool report distributed to members of the press after the event stated that about 230 people attended.
Many University students, faculty, staff and alumni attended the event. Many of Obama’s University classmates said they attended at least in part to support the first lady personally.
Golden’s father-in-law, Mark Litowitz, said he is a fan of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“I support President Obama and his policies and all he stands for,” Litowitz said on his way into the event. Golden did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
Janice Daniel ’85 said she was “supporting the person at this point.”
“I just wanted to say she’s doing an excellent job of representing me and her class,” Daniel said.
Tracy Nixon ’85, who worked at the Third World Center with Obama during their time at the University, said she was attending both to support the president and because she was a classmate of Obama’s.
“She was terrific,” Nixon said of Obama as a classmate.
Obama has visited campus only twice since graduating, according to Politico. She has not returned since becoming first lady and did not attend her 25th Reunion in 2010. Obama’s negative experience as a black woman at Princeton in the 1980s is believed to be the cause of her distant relationship with the University, according to some commentators.
Franne McNeal ’82, who knew Robinson while at the University, said she thought Obama’s decisions not to return to Princeton recently may be a result of the University’s less-than-extensive coverage of her rise to prominence.
McNeal, who was president of Cloister Inn while at the University, said that “as an African-American female, I’m really excited about Michelle being in the White House.”
University President Shirley Tilghman arrived at the event with other students. She said she had no role in the event and was “just an attendee.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting the first lady,” Tilghman said. “We’re very proud of her.”
Former dean of the college and current history professor Nancy Malkiel said she attended the event because she supports Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
“I really admire Michelle Obama as the first lady and as an alumna of Princeton University,” Malkiel said on her way into Golden’s home.
Borough Mayor Yina Moore ’79 said she came because she is a supporter of the president.
“I’m very supportive of my fellow alumni,” Moore said. “This is a great day for Princeton.”
Carol Golden introduced Obama at the event. During her speech, Obama echoed many of the same themes from her speech at the Democratic National Convention in early September, including growing up in a working class family and making her way to Princeton. She discussed her husband’s accomplishments, such as ending the War in Iraq, enacting health care reform and killing Osama bin Laden.
She also called on attendees to travel to Pennsylvania, a swing state, to volunteer for the campaign. Obama said she saw her former roommates at the event and joked about the debt from her student loans that she was still paying off many years after graduating from the University.
“When we were first married ... our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. Thank you, Princeton. Just kidding,” Obama said to laughter from the audience.
The event cost $1,000 to attend, and donors who paid $10,000 had the opportunity to take a photograph with Obama. Alumni and supporters who were invited were given the option to either simply pay for themselves to enter, pay for themselves and someone else or pay for someone else’s entrance. Many alumni paid for students to attend. The event’s host committee contacted the University to ask for recommendations for students. The University then invited “leaders of the Princeton community,” according to the invitation students received.
Students who were invited included Jessie Liu ’14, Imani Oliver ’14, Adoley Ammah-Tagoe ’14, Dimitris Papaconstantinou ’13, Lovia Gyarkye ’16, Chiraag Galaiya ’13, Lina Saud ’15, Andrew Sondern ’15, Catherine Ettman ’13, Caleb Kennedy ’14, Adam Safadi ’14, Deesha Sarma ’13, Brittany Sanders ’13, Carolyn Yang ’15, Brendan Bertagnoll ’13 and Joie Hand ’13. Sanders is the editorial board chair, and Kennedy is a senior writer for The Daily Princetonian.
Men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 attended with guard Chris Clement ’14 and center Mack Darrow ’13. Women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart attended with forwards Niveen Rasheed ’13 and Mariah Smith ’15. Banghart said she had been invited by Robinson.
Clement said it was fun attending the event with Darrow.
“The people there were really high profile so it can be kind of intimidating to go up to by yourself, so it was good to have a teammate there,” Clement said. He added he enjoyed meeting alumni and former basketball players such as Steve Mills ’81.
Some other students attended as special guests of Tilghman’s, while others paid the entrance charge and some — including Phil McNeal ’14, Eric Weiser ’13, Spencer Caton ‘14 and Charmaine Lee ’14 — played a jazz quartet at the event.
Caton said the quartet arrived early to set up its equipment and that its large items were sniffed by security dogs.
“From then on, it was pretty much a standard gig,” said Caton, who noted that a crowd of about 40-50 people stood by the band listening to them play.
According to Caton, the event’s organizers contacted the University’s jazz program to ask for a student quartet, and Caton and his band mates were in turn contacted by the jazz program.
Many students who sat in the front row, such as Rasheed, got to shake Obama’s hands.
“Michelle talked about Barack’s qualities that make him so amazing,” Rasheed said. “She explained that he isn’t satisfied yet and needs four more years to finish what he started.”
The event was scheduled to start at 11:45 a.m., but Obama did not arrive until close to 2 p.m. At that time, a Township Police car blocked the road as she was arriving, and a trail of police cars with lights flashing arrived, followed by two SUVs. Police and Secret Service then asked press and members of the public observing from across the street in public property to clear the premises.
Staff writers Courtney Balgobin, Michael Granovetter, Lydia Lim and Marcelo Rochabrun contributed reporting.