OSU Welcomes First Lady Michelle Obama

What the added security measures mean for friends and family coming to commencement

by Jen Matteis

Oregon State University’s commencement is always an important affair for its graduating seniors–but this year it’ll attract the attention of more than students. First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the June 17 commencement address, and her arrival will necessitate a slew of Secret Service, Oregon State Police, and other security measures for the ceremony at Reser Stadium.

The costs are also a bigger affair than usual. After all, not every college graduation ceremony includes an obligatory metal-detector scan.

“The graduates and visitors will pass through scanning devices similar to those that might be in an airport,” said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing at OSU. “The additional security requirements are solely related to the first lady’s presence at Oregon State.”

The White House will also pry a little into the past history of anyone speaking at the event.

“Those folks on the podium will be subject to background checks,” Clark said.

As for the Secret Service, its agents should have a strong presence. They’ve already met with Oregon State Police to discuss security issues.

“There’ll be a Secret Service detail that arrives prior to the first lady’s arrival,” said Clark. “They will assist the university and Oregon State Police in providing security assistance.”

The specifics of the first lady’s arrival are kept secret to ensure her safety.

“We don’t know the details,” said Clark. “We presume she’ll be coming on a plane provided by the White House. We don’t know which airport or what time.”

Obama is expected to discuss issues relating to preventative health, and her speech will most likely include a few points directed specifically at OSU and the Corvallis community.

“She really focuses her messages when she comes to a given campus on that campus and that community,” Clark noted.

The first lady’s goals align with OSU’s ideals in promoting health and nutrition, but that’s not Obama’s only connection to OSU. Her brother, Craig Robinson, is the head men’s basketball coach, and his presence may have helped bring the first lady to campus. Obama’s invitation to speak at OSU’s commencement was extended by both OSU President Ed Ray and Robinson. Although she is speaking at two East Coast commencements in May, this is her only West Coast address, and it’s expected to draw a huge crowd.

“We’ve expanded the seating capacity to accommodate about 35,000 guests in addition to the more than 3,500 students that will participate in graduation,” said Clark. “We’re expecting twice as many or more people than we’ve ever had before.”

Tickets are free, but will be limited to manage the size of the crowd and to guarantee sufficient seating. Students can reserve tickets for family and friends on OSU’s website.

OSU’s commencements in the past have featured speakers ranging from astronaut John Glenn to National Geographic editor Chris Johns, but the first lady’s presence will be… well, a first.

“It’s an extraordinary, extraordinary achievement for Oregon State University and the Corvallis community,” said Clark. “It’s a validation of not only the university’s commitment to public health and families and the community, it’s a validation that this is one of the top universities in the nation–if not the world.”

Commencement is on Sunday, June 17 at 3 p.m. at Reser Stadium. Graduating students can visit http://oregonstate.edu/events/commencement/ for tickets.