Debate Weekend, or: My 5 Seconds of Fame

If you’ve turned on the news or been anywhere near St. Louis these past few weeks, you couldn’t have missed the anticipation in the air. Debate weekend was a blur of excitement for nearly everyone.

In the few days leading up to Sunday, news crews from all around the US crowded onto campus to set up their stages and equipment. It was almost surreal, to see big-names like CNN and MSNBC assembling their crews as students hurried around them to rush to their classes. As an art student, I mostly keep to the east side of WashU, but I specifically took a trip around campus to watch everyone set up.


MSNBC’s stage near Mudd field

While I didn’t receive a ticket to the debate, the pre-debate setup was especially exciting for me because I got to help out as well! Since my last post, I started an internship with WashU’s Office of Public Affairs, which played an essential part in helping the debate run smoothly. The PA office normally focuses on running WashU’s products (websites, blogs, etc) and maintaining its general image, so as you can imagine, it was all hands on deck for an event as massive as the presidential debate. Visitors had to be credentialed, media had to be corralled, and Public Affairs was right there in the thick of it.

Us interns were immediately put to work, and so the week before the debate, I ran around filling grab bags and rolling posters that would be given out to students and media. I was also credentialed to enter the debate grounds, and I felt so privileged that I could even enter the general area! But most importantly, I was hard at work during the live debate itself, working in the PA Office to ensure social media on the event ran smoothly.

Being able to contribute and receive behind-the-scenes information about such an important event made me feel special, I have to admit. While I can’t breach confidentiality, there’s something thrilling about overhearing gossip and questions from students about the debate and realizing that I’m part of a small team privy to exclusive information.

But what is this “5 seconds of fame” that I refer to in the title, you ask? I present to you: my cameo on national news.

Check out the lower left corner

Check out the lower left corner

Actually, I had two separate 5 seconds of fame. While this picture is from CNN broadcasting the afternoon of the debate, I also showed up for their evening broadcast the night before. And let me tell you, it was an experience. It was exciting enough realizing that I was on NATIONAL TELEVISION (!!!), in the background of one of the most watched newscasts in the country, with news anchors that I’m used to seeing on a screen giving their reports 50 feet from me. But things took a turn towards the hilarious when, during the evening broadcast, everyone in Brookings Quad was plunged into darkness because the power failed on the CNN stage. For a moment, there was general confusion about what had just happened because the power cut right in the middle of an anchor’s sentence, before an “oooooh” ran through the crowd as people realized what happened. Then, one of CNN’s crew members shouted to the students, “Run! Everyone run to the backup stage!” and there was a literal stampede of students down Brookings steps as they sprinted toward the backup tent. People were laughing and running with their signs (and the occasional costume), and there was just something hilarious about the sight of about 200 people tripping down the stairs to make sure the CNN broadcast wasn’t down for too long.

There were no such technical difficulties the day of the debate, and so I hopped between news stations during the debate fair that took place that afternoon. Now, the thought of the debate almost seems like a dream. It doesn’t seem real that this campus was on national news, that the Secret Service was present among students, that the presidential candidates themselves came within a mile of all of us. Watching the debate on screen and realizing that this historic moment that’s still being recapped on news everywhere took place at a school I know so well is insane to me.

I have a lot more to say on the debate, like how I’m so proud of our SU president for his debate speech, how fast things have went back to normal just a day after, and how hearing “Washington University in St. Louis” on the news was thrilling every time, but I shouldn’t ramble on for too long. These are just my initial scattered thoughts on the debate and my own small experiences in the general scheme of a massive event. I feel so privileged to have been so close to history, and I hope the rest of my semester matches up!