Columbia students react to State of the Union address

By Patrick Smith

The reaction to President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address among Columbia students was consistent: They loved the part about forgiving student loans and thought Obama was eloquent and uplifting. But they would like to hear less and see more.

“It was all great; it sounded good, but we’ve got to get to actually doing that stuff [he was talking about],” said Arneo Durakovic, a broadcast journalism major.

Most of Obama’s address to Congress centered on America’s struggling economy, and the president took the chance to use his highly regarded oratorical skills to rally Washington and the American people around an economic recovery.

“For 220 years our leaders have [informed Congress about the State of the Union]. They’ve done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they’ve done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle,” Obama said in his speech on Jan. 27.  “These were the times that tested the courage of our convictions and the strength of our union.  And despite all our divisions and disagreements, our hesitations and our fears, America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people. Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.”

Most of the students The Chronicle spoke with said they did not watch the address. First year technical theater student Katie Partus said she stayed away because she has grown disenchanted with Obama.

“He’s gone downhill,” Partus said. “He sounded promising, but he really hasn’t lived up to that.”

But Partus expressed excitement about Obama’s proposals to make college more affordable for students.

“Let’s give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years, and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service,” Obama told Congress and the American people. “Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”

Ben Smith, a film major at Columbia, said if Obama was able to pass legislation like that, he would actually vote in the next presidential election.

“The best part of the speech was when he said you shouldn’t be broke because you chose to go to college,” Durakovic said

In his speech, Obama admonished both parties in Congress for behaving as if “every day is Election Day.”

But he saved his strongest words for the Republican side of the aisle.

“Just saying no to everything may be good, short-term politics, but it’s not leadership,” Obama said. “We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.”

The reaction from Republican congressmen after the State of the Union made it clear they don’t think the president was being genuine in his calls for cooperation.

“Real bipartisanship requires more than just lip service, it demands both sides coming together in a meaningful way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), according to, calling Obama’s speech and proposals “just more of the same.”

But some of Hatch’s Republican colleagues expressed more optimism about working with the White House and Congressional Democrats.

“We should not be concentrating on what divides us,” said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), according to “Rather, we should focus on what we can agree on so we can move America forward.”

Columbia students said they hope, for the sake of the country and their pocketbooks, that Obama and Voinovich are serious about working together.

“We all have to work together,” Durakovic said. “Republicans and Democrats need to get to work.”