By Michele Bourdieu
President Barack Obama speaks on his National Wireless Initiative to an invited audience at Northern Michigan University's Vandament Arena on Feb. 10, 2011. Obama chose to visit NMU because it is the first college in the U.S. to install the most advanced wireless technology for students and faculty -- WiMAX (4G), which connects to the Internet from off-campus. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
MARQUETTE -- President Barack Obama had nothing but energetic praise for Northern Michigan University's WiMAX advanced wireless technology in his Feb. 10 address on the National Wireless Initiative to an invited audience in NMU's Vandament Arena.
On Feb. 10, 2011, President Obama jogs from his plane to greet a welcoming crowd at K. I. Sawyer Airport. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Teresa Bertossi)*
As he jogged from the plane to his waiting motorcade, he seemed invigorated by the cold air but warmed by the February sunshine and enthusiastic welcome he received -- from the small audience allowed at the airport to people lining the streets to see his motorcade. Some carried signs about clean water and others tried to guess which way the motorcade would go so they could see it.
At each step of his route, Obama stopped to shake hands and greet individuals. NMU students, faculty and staff and local residents who heard his speech or merely caught a glimpse of his motorcade had mostly positive reactions to this President's first visit to the Upper Peninsula.
President Obama greets a small welcoming crowd at K.I. Sawyer Airport. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Teresa Bertossi)
"It was exciting to be out just celebrating Obama's visit," said Eeva Miller of Marquette, a member of the Upper Peninsula Coalition for Clean Water, who welcomed the motorcade with signs and flags along Lakeshore Boulevard.
Waiting near the shore of Lake Superior for President Obama's motorcade to arrive, Eeva Miller of Marquette, a member of the Upper Peninsula Coalition for Clean Water, displays a colorful clean water sign meant to attract the President's attention with the title of his book. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Save the Wild UP)
"We waved and showed our signs supporting Obama and our water as his cars went by. Then several of us went to Vango's for lunch and the viewing of his speech on television. Exciting event on a beautiful day here in the Upper Peninsula! It was great to hear his comments on how beautiful our area is."
Members of the Upper Peninsula Coalition for Clean Water display signs and a blue water flag welcoming President Obama as they await the arrival of his motorcade on Lakeshore Boulevard in Marquette. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Eeva Miller)*
Barbara Manninen of Hancock, who is an active member of the Houghton County Democratic Party, did not have an invitation to the speech but talked to people on the street as they waited for Obama's motorcade to arrive. Manninen said she enjoyed "just the excitement of seeing how many people honor the presidency by showing up -- whether they support the President or not." She said she even talked to one "grumpy old man" who said he didn't like Obama.
"But [the old man] came. He endured the frigid temperatures," Manninen said. "We had to stand around and wait. People waited a long time in the cold -- bundled-up babies in strollers and even happy dogs."**
Obama participates in video conference with area schools
Before his speech, Obama attended a demonstration of how the new WiMAX technology has enabled distance learning for university and community students. The President participated in a video conference with Negaunee High School students and seventh and eighth graders from Powell Township School in Big Bay, organized by NMU School of Education Professor Joseph Lubig.
Lauren Fusilier, an NMU elementary education major, was one of the students who had an opportunity to meet the President and assist with the demonstration.
"We showed him how it works," Fusilier said. "He's got lots of ideas to share. He was very interested in what the kids had to say."
Fusilier said the students showed Obama how teachers can use the new wireless technology to enhance their lessons.
"It allows children to access resources beyond what's immediately available to them. They can talk to experts that are states away and countries away about what they're studying," she explained. "They can link up with other classrooms and do the same assignments and compare the results."
Both Lauren and her husband, Matthew Fusilier, an NMU accounting major who will graduate this spring (with a job already lined up in Lansing), attended Obama's
Vandament Arena speech and both were impressed with the speech.
"He's a heck of a speaker -- very inspiring," Matthew said. "He knows how to relate pretty well."
NMU President Les Wong and Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D-Detroit) gave a few introductory remarks while the audience in the Vandament Arena -- mostly students -- waited patiently for Obama's arrival. Both mentioned the new wireless technology -- the main purpose for Obama's visit.
The crowd in NMU's Vandament Arena waits patiently for President Obama's arrival. Standing at right is Michael Broadway, interim dean of NMU's College of Arts and Sciences. "It's a great honor for the President to come to Marquette and to Northern, to put a spotlight on some of the great things we're doing here at Northern, particularly with our wireless technology," Broadway said. "I hope he has a nice time while he's here." (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Wong acknowledged the help of federal representatives, especially former Congressman Bart Stupak, in Northern's acquiring the new technology, which will be used for public schools, city services and especially for NMU students.
NMU President Les Wong speaks before President Obama's arrival for his speech in Vandament Arena. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Miriam Moeller)
"Our students represent this new frontier and I'm immensely proud of them," Wong said.
Levin flew to Marquette with President Obama but arrived in the arena shortly before the President did.
"As we flew in today," Levin said, "The President could see up closely the beauty -- the spectacular beauty of the Upper Peninsula."
U.S. Senator Carl Levin addresses the audience in Vandament Arena just before the arrival of President Obama. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Miriam Moeller)*
Levin called the new technology "another step forward in bringing together, keeping together and wiring together" people who are separated geographically but united as one people.
When Obama finally arrived at Vandament Arena, he was welcomed with cheers and enthusiastic applause from the audience.
"And all of you are here. And you guys are pretty special. Absolutely," Obama told them.
Obama: Young people lead historic movement in Egypt
He preceded his presentation with a reference to the situation in Egypt, clearly directing his remarks to the students in the audience.
"Before I begin, I just want to say that we are following today’s events in Egypt very closely," Obama said."And we’ll have more to say as this plays out. But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change."
Obama noted it’s young people leading that movement, "a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard." He pointed out the interconnectedness between what is happening on the other side of the world and what happens here.
"And that’s why I’ve come to Marquette today -- not only because it’s beautiful, and the people are really nice -- which is true. But I’ve come here because in the 21st century, it’s not just the big cities where change is happening. It’s also in towns like this where the jobs and businesses of tomorrow will take root, and where young and talented Americans can lead. It’s towns like this where our economic future will be won."
As an example of cutting edge technology and research, Obama mentioned the advanced battery manufacturing industry "taking root right here in the state of Michigan."
He compared reducing the government's deficit to families' efforts to live within their means and saving money by cutting out things they can afford to live without, like not eating in (some) restaurants or limiting vacations.
"And that’s why I’ve proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. That will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. It will bring spending to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was President," he noted.
"That’s a long time ago. Even I wasn’t born then," Obama joked.
But even with budget cuts, the country needs to invest -- for the future -- in "innovation, education and infrastructure."
That last area -- infrastructure -- was the subject of his visit to Marquette, Obama said.
He then gave a brief history of the development of three main types of infrastructure that built the United States as it is today -- railroads, electricity and interstate highways.
President Barack Obama speaks about the history of the railroad and electricity during his Feb. 10, 2011, speech to an invited audience in the Vandament Arena at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)
"So this is a new century, and we can’t expect tomorrow’s economy to take root using yesterday’s infrastructure," he said.
To help the construction industry, Obama explained, he wants to double the project of the last two years "to put more Americans to work repairing crumbling bridges and roads."
Obama's goals: high-speed rail, high-speed wireless
He then pointed out two long-term goals of his administration: "Within 25 years, our goal is to have 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed rail, which could allow you to go to places in half the time it takes by car. Within five years, we want to make it possible for businesses to put high-speed wireless services in reach of virtually every American."
And that high-speed wireless was the reason Obama came to NMU, where every student has a laptop computer with wireless Internet access. Obama looked directly at NMU President Wong and praised him for the university's WiMAX network.
"You partnered with various companies to build a high-speed, next-generation wireless network. And you managed to install it with six people in only four days without raising tuition. Good job. Good job, Mr. President," Obama said.
He joked about wanting the names of those six people -- "there’s a whole bunch of stuff in Washington I’d like to see done in four days with six people."
Obama spoke about his video conferencing with the two local schools.
"So I felt like the guy in Star Trek. I was being beamed around -- across the Upper Peninsula here. But it was remarkable to see the possibilities for these young people who are able to, let’s say, do a chemistry experiment, and they can compare the results with kids in Boston," Obama said.
He noted the same technology can be used by first responders and city governments.
"And as a result, police officers can access crime databases in their cars. And firefighters can download blueprints on the way to a burning building. And public works officials can save money by monitoring pumps and equipment remotely," Obama said.
He also noted how broadband has helped local businesses, such as Getz's Clothiers, a third-generation, family-owned Marquette business Obama had visited earlier in the day.
"They’ve occupied the same downtown store for more than a century -- but with the help of broadband, they were recently listed as one of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies. Now how did they pull that off?" Obama asked.
The downtown department store does two thirds of its sales on line, he explained.
"It can process more than 1,000 orders a day, and its workforce has more than doubled. So you’ve got a local business with a global footprint because of technology," Obama said.
The President gave more examples: how new technology provides long-distance, lifesaving medical care in South Dakota; enables "insourcing" of English teaching to Asia in a town of 300 in Wyoming; and helps farmers in Iowa and Alabama monitor weather and global markets.
"So to make this happen, we’re going to invest in research and development of emerging technologies and applications," Obama said. "By selling private companies the rights to these airwaves, we won’t just encourage private investment and expand wireless access; we’re actually going to bring in revenues that lower our deficits."
Quoting John F. Kennedy's one-word goal for the United States in 1960 -- "first" -- Obama concluded with one of his own favorite phrases: "We do big things."
Citing a newspaper statement made at the time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Obama noted more than once in his speech that the United States is "a young nation that teaches the world to march forward" and will have to do it again. (See video above.)
"That’s what you’re doing up here in U.P. That’s what you’re doing here at Northern Michigan University. That’s what we’re all going to do together in the months and years to come," he said.
Reactions to Obama's speech
NMU student Mollie Anderson of Ishpeming, a student volunteer assigned to visiting members of the press, told Keweenaw Now she was definitely involved in the new WiMAX technology as a media production minor in communication studies.
"I live off campus, so I use my WiMAX all the time," Anderson said. "It's my main Internet source."
Anderson said she was aware NMU would be continuing to develop the WiMAX technology and she planned to be involved in it.
"I know I'll definitely be one of the first to volunteer," she said.
As for Obama's speech, Anderson said, "I thought it was inspiring. It makes me feel proud to be an American."
Former State Representative Mike Lahti of Hancock, business owner and Democrat, who attended the speech with his wife, Sharon, also commented positively on it.
While waiting for Obama's arrival in NMU's Vandament Arena, former 110th District State Representative Mike Lahti, center right, chats with Gilbert Ziegler a member of NMU's Board of Control. Joining their conversation, to Ziegler's left, is former 109th District State Representative Steve Adamini. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"I thought it was an excellent speech. It was really timely -- really a boost for the U.P.," Lahti said. "Sharon and I enjoyed the day."
Asked to comment on whether he thought the U.P. could eventually have the high-speed rail Obama mentioned, Lahti was not optimistic.
"It would be a while," he said. "We're fighting to keep our (existing) rail."
He mentioned a rail line near Ontonagon (no longer being used by a plant that closed) that is at risk to be torn up by the owner, who hopes to earn $6 million for the salvage. Lahti said it would be too bad if that was torn up since other businesses do use it and it keeps transportation costs down.
"People who use his rail would like to see that rail line open," he noted. "It's a lot easier for businesses to succeed if they have rail in the area."
Representing Michigan Technological University's student radio station, WMTU, at one of the press tables, John Walikainen, Michigan Tech computer science major and Houghton resident, prepares to record President Obama's speech for a radio broadcast he planned to present on Feb. 11. The subject of Obama's speech was familiar to Walikainen, who will graduate from Michigan Tech this spring with a degree in computer network and system administration. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Gary McDowell of Rudyard, Mich. (near Sault Ste. Marie), former 107th District state representative and former Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress from the First District, also attended the speech and said he agreed with Obama's comments on new technology infrastructure.
"It's definitely what we need to do," McDowell said. "We need to build our infrastructure -- invest in our people."
Sandra Gayk, Northern Michigan University grants coordinator, who was one of the lucky university staff members invited to attend the speech, had a very positive reaction to it.
"President Obama's speech at NMU was absolutely brilliant," Gayk said. "He started out talking about the situation in Egypt and how young people have been the catalyst for change, using social networking technology. We even got a history lesson about the development of trains. He pulled it all together, praising NMU's technology and community-wide wireless broadband system, saying the future of this country depends on innovation, research and technology. I felt so thrilled to have had the opportunity to hear him speak. He definitely is a motivator of people!"
Brandon Frazho of Gladstone, NMU student in pre-law and political science, said he thought Obama was an excellent speaker.
"He touched on all the things I'm interested in knowing about, including Egypt," Frazho said. "It was just great to hear how Northern is doing compared to the rest of the world."
Many NMU faculty, staff and students who lacked an invitation to the speech were able to watch it on television on campus. Marge Sklar, associate dean of the College of Business, was one of these. She spoke positively about Obama.
"He got the right impression of Marquette," Sklar commented. "He said it was beautiful -- with friendly people and a forward-moving university."
Angela Mott of Lansing, a student in international studies, was working near Sklar's office and also watched the speech on T.V.
"I thought it was informative and encouraging," Mott said, "and gave a nice emphasis on small-town America."
Not content to stay in a small town, however, Mott plans to study French in Paris and Arabic in Morocco next summer. She noted her French study at Northern includes an online program with videos for practicing the language.
*Some of the photos in this article previously appeared in Headwaters News. Thanks to Teresa Bertossi and Gabriel Caplett of Headwaters, to Save the Wild UP and to visiting photographers Eeva Miller and Miriam Moeller for sharing photos.
** Thanks to Barbara Manninen for driving us to Marquette for this memorable event!
See the video or read the transcript of President Obama's speech on WhiteHouse.gov or on the NMU Web site.