When Lloyd Komesar ’74 learned that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) would be this year’s commencement speaker, the California-native knew what he had to do.

“This is one of those historical moments at Wesleyan, so I jumped on a plane,” Komesar said.

For many University alumni, the announcement that Obama would stand in for Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as commencement speaker provided ample motive to travel back to the University, or at least to extend a previously planned reunion visit.

“The excitement of the moment, and the meaning of the momen— didn’t want to say I hadn’t been there for this,” Komesar said.

Like many current students, numerous University alumni flocked to a nostalgic hangout spo—oss Hil—o ensure an ant-sized view of the presidential hopeful during his speech. While actual seats were reserved for family and close friends of the graduates, other spectators gathered in close-quarters with picnic blankets and sun-umbrellas on this sunny area of grass.

One such hillside alumna was Janelle Bryan ’99, who secured her spot at 6 a.m., five hours before commencement was scheduled to begin. Bryan explained that Obama will be the first person she will vote for in the U.S., as she recently gained American citizenship. She was more than happy to chat and take pictures for a few hours while anxiously awaiting Obama’s arrival.

Another alumna, Jennifer Birk ’92.5, was similarly enthusiastic about getting an adequate view from Foss Hill.

“I was as close as I could get,” she said.

While Obama’s presence on campus provided a catalyst for many impromptu decisions to attend commencement, several alumni noted that the weekend was more than just an opportunity to listen to a famed politician. For them, it was also a chance to experience President Michael Roth at the close of his first year, to interact with current students and to get reacquainted with the campus.

“The whole weekend was great,” said Audrey Nathanson ’78. “I was really impressed with the continuity of Wesleyan and the addition of President Roth. I’m glad to see that the best of the traditions of Wesleyan seem to have continued, [things such as] the intellectual creativity and depth, sense of community, and culture that goes way beyond academics.”

Nathanson, who attended her 30th reunion with her husband, college best friend, and high school-aged son, explained that her party intended to go to graduation before Obama’s presence was announced.

“We were planning to stay the whole time, but we were delighted when we heard we would be able to hear Obama speak,” Nathanson said.

While Nathanson had previously planned to attend graduation, the alumni who went primarily for Obama noted that they found President Roth’s speec—nd their general experience back at Wesleya—s enthralling as seeing Obama himself.

“It was really rewarding to come back,” Komesar said. “I thought Michael Roth gave a brilliant speech, and Barack Obama’s was obviously equally brilliant. Between the two of them, this moment was very special.”

For many alumni, catching a glimpse of Obama in this familiar locale was just as important as interpreting the actual content of his speech.

“I wasn’t necessarily planning to stay for today, but I really wanted to see Obama,” said John Sommer ’63. “And I think it’s particularly interesting to see him in a Wesleyan context.”

While both the University and the Obama camp were quick to note that this was not a campaign-related appearance, Birk felt that Obama’s presence on campus could potentially affect the views of University-affiliated voters.

“I heard from one [alumna] who is thinking of changing her vote because of [Obama’s] willingness to come to Wesleyan,” she said.

Birk also noted that Obama’s speech provided an anchor of focus for chitchat among attendees.

“There was a real coming together with everyone experiencing the day on many levels,” she said. “Sometimes it’s easy to be numb to commencements. You couldn’t be numb at commencement today and not have been engaged, whether one is a supporter or a non-supporter.”

Whether Obama’s speech was a focal point or a side-note to their campus visits, most alumni were enthusiastic to return to campus and take part in a historical moment that will surely provide colorful anecdotes at the reunions to come.

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Komesar said. “Sometimes the older we get, the less spontaneous we becom—ut not this weekend.”

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