If anything became clear on campus Friday, it’s that Brown students love Bill Clinton.
Fans of the former president braved a cold morning to get copies of his autobiography signed, flocked to sports arenas to hear him speak and crowded him as he left the auditorium so they could meet, or just grasp the hand of, one of the most famous and popular politicians in the world.
It felt, as Clinton mentioned in his speech, almost as if he were back in office again.
“People just love him,” said Ike Sriskandarajah ’08, who met Clinton Friday. “It almost didn’t matter what he was speaking about. He could be talking about anything, and people wouldn’t care. They just want to see Bill Clinton.”
It should have been no surprise that Clinton, who made two speaking appearances in addition to a book signing session at the University on Friday, was received so warmly. Not only was the Democrat visiting a university widely seen as liberal, but also a state in which he won in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections by landslide victories.
The hype over Clinton’s visit began Sunday evening, when students began lining up a day early for tickets to the former president’s lecture. The excitement grew as the week progressed, and many professors canceled Friday classes because they knew students would be attending the lecture.
Some of Clinton’s most fervent fans were in line at the Brown Bookstore Friday morning, waiting for the former president’s signing of his autobiography, “My Life.” But although the autograph session wasn’t scheduled to begin until 10:30 a.m. Friday, devotees began arriving as early as Thursday evening to ensure they would have a chance to meet their idol.
By 6 a.m., there were already around 100 people in line, a number that grew to about 300 when the bookstore’s doors opened at 9:30 a.m. The line, which included a large number of people not affiliated with Brown, started at the bookstore, continued two blocks north and turned on Meeting Street, where people at the end of the line stood in front of the Bio-Medical Center. Clinton ultimately signed about 700 books, about 200 more than expected.
The first person in line, Wilfredo Perez ’08, arrived at 7:36 p.m. Thursday, as a sign he made proudly stated. He said he and his three friends had to endure harsh weather and drunk hecklers in order to meet the president.
“We sat through three rainstorms and 35 degree temperature,” Perez said.
But Perez said he was willing to endure these conditions because Clinton was his hero, and meeting him was one of the 19 things he wanted to do in his life.
Perez and others who arrived Thursday night passed time by talking, doing homework, playing board games and, of course, sleeping. Most brought warm clothes and blankets to keep themselves warm, and one group even brought a mattress on which to sleep.
In the end, Perez’s extreme punctuality paid off – he was one of the first people to meet Clinton. The former president signed his audiobook and announced to the crowd Perez’s achievement of being first in line, before posing to take a photo with him.
Another person who spent the night outside the bookstore was Paul Deion of Cranston. He said he arrived around 11 p.m. Thursday to save a spot for his 10-year-old son, Kurt, who has a fascination with presidents.
“(My son) is primarily into presidential burial sites – we’ve visited about 18 already,” Deion said. “He’s a presidential history buff, and I thought it would be nice if we met a president that’s still alive.”
Others who did not arrive quite so early also shared an enthusiasm for the former president. Katy Hynes, a Providence attorney who arrived at the bookstore at 5:30 a.m. Friday, said she worked on Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and wanted to meet him.
“I’ve had so much admiration for him for so long, and I’ve never met him,” Hynes said. She added she was skipping work that morning to attend the signing “because you’ll never know when you’ll have this chance again.”
Though those who attended Clinton’s Friday afternoon policy address didn’t need to worry about getting in – all tickets to the Meehan Auditorium event had been distributed earlier in the week – audience members began arriving outside the hockey arena Thursday night to secure a prime seat.
The first person in this line, Aaron Wdowin ’05, said he arrived at 10 p.m. Thursday. He, his friends and about a dozen others all stayed overnight outside Meehan.
“We really wanted to see Bill,” Wdowin said.
Tiara Peterkin ’07, a former women’s basketball manager, arrived in line with members of the team at 6:30 a.m. Friday. They spent the morning playing spades and chess, listening to music.
Peterkin said she and her friends created a chant criticizing people who cut in line, but she praised the Department of Public Safety for maintaining order.
Peterkin said she got to Meehan early because she wanted to be in the front row to see Clinton’s “nose hairs move.”
Lines outside of Meehan didn’t get lengthy until about 9:30 or 10 a.m., she said.
Those who arrived shortly before 1 p.m., when the doors of Meehan closed, were still able to get in.
The University gave out 4,421 tickets to the Meehan address, according to Mark Nickel, director of the Brown News Service. The arena appeared to be filled nearly to capacity for Clinton’s speech.
Law enforcement and security personnel from “many agencies” were on site, Nickel said. Audience members needed a ticket and a Brown ID card to get in. Bags were prohibited, but metal detectors were not used.
Clinton waived his large speaker’s fee for his appearances Friday. No information was available Friday afternoon on how much the University spent to set up and secure his visit.
Nickel said after the Meehan event that the day had gone smoothly thus far.
The only stumbling block appeared to be when Clinton tripped and fell forward as he walked up steps leading to Alumnae Hall, where he spoke to the Northeast College Democrats Conference. But with the help of aides, he quickly regained his balance.
– With Herald staff reports