Arizona State Preps for Obama's Commencement Visit

Obama to speak at Arizona State U.?s graduationMaxine Park
Workers prep Arizona State University?s Sun Devil Stadium for Wednesday?s commencement ceremony, featuring President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama will address the largest crowd since his inauguration Wednesday at Arizona State University's commencement.

About 71,000 people are expected to brave long lines in 99-degree heat to attend the open-air ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium.

Anticipation for the graduation reached fever pitch this week. Crews spent the past few days building the stage and setting up signs for the big event, a spectacle of mariachi music, Native American performances and marching bands. Rock icon Alice Cooper will be the opening act.

But for graduates facing a bleak job market, Obama's speech remains the major draw. Arizona native Alex Linden, 22, an English major, said she's looking forward to hearing a message of hope.

"President Barack Obama giving my commencement speech seems like the perfect cap to my ASU experience," Linden said. "I expect his speech, in typical Obama style, to be riveting and full of the ability to spark excitement and a sense of accomplishment."

Tickets Scalped on Craigslist

Having a sitting president speak at commencement posed significant logistical hurdles for ASU. The frenzy for tickets began as soon as the college announced its speaker in March. Ads for graduation tickets appeared on Craigslist and eBay, with sale prices ranging from $50 to $300.

But Vicki Pounders, 60, who is attending the ceremony to watch her son David earn his degree, said she wouldn't dream of selling her ticket.

"I'm just absolutely thrilled," Pounders said. "I'm excited to see my son graduate, but I can't wait to hear the president speak. I'm hoping he'll give these graduates some positive words."

Officials from Craigslist worked with the university and agreed to remove all ads offering commencement tickets for sale. According to the university website, students can give tickets away, but any tickets found to be sold will not be valid at the gate.

Scholarships Instead of Degree

Yet another controversy erupted when ASU decided not to give the president an honorary degree. ASU officials initially said university policy prevented them from awarding degrees to sitting politicians.

Within days, ASU president Michael Crow announced the President Barack Obama Scholars Program for incoming freshmen. Crow is expected to recognize the five students selected for the scholarships after the president delivers his speech.

Still, the ASU storm paled in comparison to the commotion surrounding Obama's invitation to address Notre Dame's graduating class on Sunday, May 17. The Catholic university took heat from some bishops and alumni for inviting a pro-choice president who supports stem cell research.

Rock Icon and Mariachis

Festivities get underway at 5 p.m., with performances by The Phoenix Indian Center Navajo Singing Group, and ASU's hip hop, mariachi and gospel choir. Cooper will perform with Runaway Phoenix, his son Dash's band.

The president is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. With the number of people expected to attend increasing by the day, safety is a major issue.

ASU Police Commander Jim Hardina said the main concern is Mother Nature, as the forecast predicts temperatures as high as 99 degrees.

Scorching Temperatures, No Shade

"The biggest public safety concern is going to be the heat," Hardina said. "We'll have medical stations and water stations set up inside the stadium for those who need it."

With some attendees and graduates expected to arrive as early as 2:30 p.m., free water and concessions will be available inside the stadium. For those who can't stand the heat, a large viewing screen will be set up in the Wells Fargo Arena next door. But once people leave the stadium, they will not be allowed back inside.

Erik Fink, 21, a journalism major from California, said getting to see the president live is worth braving the weather.

"I'm not too thrilled about spending four hours in 100 degree heat," Fink said. "But it'll be a remarkable memory for me, one I can tell my children and grandchildren."

Heightened Security

ASU police said 74 campus officers along with 150 officers from 18 neighboring departments will be on hand to ensure the safety of the graduates and the rest of the crowd.

Secret Service will also be positioned at all security gate entrances. Attendees will not be allowed to bring unopened packages, containers, or even balloons to the ceremony.

The heightened security didn't seem to bother Soo-Lin Lee, 22, a marketing major.

"I think it's an honor to be graduating and have him there not only because it's President Obama but just because it's the president of the United States," Lee said. "The fact that I get to be a part of this is something I will remember for the rest of my life."