By: Dargan Thompson, Assistant Features Editor
While most UNF students’ involvement in the debate was limited to gawking at the CNN buses on their way to class, a group of students in Presidential Envoys spent the week running errands for CNN and ended up with front row seats in the Lazzara Performance Hall.
The Presidential Envoys is a group of student ambassadors that hosts events for UNF President John Delaney and the UNF Alumni Association. Fourteen of the members were chosen to help with the debate. Starting Monday of debate week, the students worked as runners whenever they were available, gave tours to CNN representatives, escorted people back and forth from the Student Union and helped set up.
Derek Davis, the Envoys’ student lead for the event, said one of the highlights was getting to act the part of a candidate on stage to check the sound and lighting. Davis participated in a mock debate with CNN host Wolf Blitzer to make sure everything would run smoothly for the actual event.
“I was Mitt Romney for a good six hours one day,” he said, “answering questions as I thought Romney would.”
Larissa Johnson, Voice Chair for Envoys, also got to stand in for a candidate during one of the sound checks. She said the absence of an audience intimidated her.
“There wasn’t even anyone in the audience, and we were nervous,” she said. “We couldn’t imagine if it was all full.”
The Envoys had planned on working all week with CNN but did not expect to be able to be in Lazzara during the debate. It came as a surprise Jan. 25 when they received an email saying they would be sitting in the front row.
Jayme Amick, a UNF psychology senior and two-year Envoys veteran, said she was honored just to work with CNN. Getting to sit front row was more than she had expected.
“It was really humbling,” she said. “We sat in front of President Delaney.”
In the front row, the Envoys were front and center any time the cameras turned toward the crowd. Amick said it was amazing but nerve-wracking. She said she was afraid to sneeze or yawn, in case CNN caught it on tape.
“There are all these cameras facing you,” she said, “and you don’t know which one’s actually filming you.”
Watching from the front row was an entirely different experience than watching a debate on TV, Johnson said.
“I feel like I could judge the character of the candidates more,” she said. “I feel like I could tell if they were being genuine or not. And I paid more attention because I was so close, and it was so real.”
During commercial breaks, the candidates came over to shake the Envoys’ hands and talk to them, Davis said. Paul expressed enthusiasm about being on a college campus again, and Santorum said: “It’s awesome to see students out here.”
Overall, the experience was one those involved will never forget, they said. Amick said it was cool to get to be a part of one of the historical events at UNF’s campus. It was also an honor to be one of the only students chosen to help with the event, she said.
“It was just such a neat experience to represent the University and get to say, ‘I was one of the people that stood there. I was the face of UNF on TV,’” Amick said. “We may have met the future president of the United States. That’s a huge deal!”
Davis said the experience changed his outlook on politics.
“I was never too political before,” he said, “but sitting in the front row really made me realize, and made me appreciate that I have my vote, I have my voice, and I can make a difference.”
Email Dargan Thompson at [email protected]