Obama Draws Big Crowd at U of Md.

For most college students, Monday means back to the daily grind of classes and note taking, but for thousands at the University of Maryland at College Park, it meant skipping class.

Word got out over the weekend that presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was coming to campus for a mid-afternoon rally. That was all the excuse some needed to trade in their class time for some political time.

"This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you can go to class anytime," senior Andrew Schaefer, a journalism major, said.

Freshman computer engineering major Kevin Roak agreed. "It's not every day you get to see a presidential candidate, and I really like what [Obama] stands for, so it was worth it."

A group of government majors told ABC News that one of their professors even canceled class so that students could attend the event.

Originally, the event was scheduled to be in the university's athletic center, the cavernous Cole Field House, which can accommodate nearly 15,000 people. But when word spread through Facebook invites and group announcements, the event was switched to Comcast Center, which can hold 18,000.

As people filed in to the standing room only Comcast Center, Obama campaign officials dolled out blue and red signs to the crowd reading, "Change We Can Believe In" and "Stand For Change." Many students, showing off their Maryland red school colors, also brought their own homemade signs that read, "Barack My World" and "Barack Is My Homeboy."

The energy inside the stadium was just as intense as a Maryland vs. Duke basketball game, complete with the wave, started by a small group of students behind the stage, chants of "O-BA-MA," and boos rang out when the crowd realized yet another guest speaker — not yet Obama himself — was approaching the stage.

Several speakers got up on stage to rally the troops into excitement, including Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler and Chris Willhelm of Students for Barack Obama at the University of Maryland.

Gansler received applause when he said "[Obama] is a uniter, not a divider ... he's not George Bush."

Maryland sophomore and member of Students for Barack Obama, Sterling Grimes, gave a shout out of thanks to several student groups on campus that had helped in the voter registration process, and screamed out, "Are you ready for change?" to monstrous screams.

Grimes also mentioned that his group would be sending out "Remember to Vote" text messages on Tuesday to everyone who signed up on the mailing list, as hundreds of students and supporters whipped out their cell phones to take the sign-up text number off the JumboTron.

Thunderous cheers and chants of "Yes We Can" rang out as Obama emerged from the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team locker area onto center court.

Obama covered his usual array of topics from health care, to the Iraq War, to education, but tailored his stump speech at key moments to the youthful crowd.

"What's been the most exciting has been seeing the young people coming out ... voting for the first time ... because a new generation are saying it's our time," he said.

He spoke to the crowd about making college affordable, raising the minimum wage, and allowing young people to stay covered by their parents' health insurance until 25 years of age.

"I don't know about you, but I think it's about time we make college affordable for everybody," Obama added. "We're going to have a $4,000 tuition credit [for] every student, every year, so that young people aren't burdened by debt."

But that break is no freebie, Obama told the students. He expects something in return.

"You're going to have to participate in community service, national service, work in a homeless shelter, work in a veteran's hall," he told them. "We'll invest in you, you invest in America — together, we'll march forward."

Obama made numerous references to Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

"I am running for what Dr. King called 'the fierce urgency of now," Obama said. "Our nation is at war, our planet is in peril, the dream that so many generations fought for feels like it's slowly slipping away ... people are working harder for less, they've never paid more for college, they've never paid more for gas at the pump.

"All around the country, I meet young people who have the grades, the will and the drive to go to college, but don't have the money, so they end up taking out loans," Obama said. "They've got a mortgage before they ever buy a house, before they even have a job."

Obama struggled to be heard above the cheers and applause as he said, "We cannot afford to wait. We can't wait to fix our schools, we can't wait to fix our health care system. We can't wait to send our young people to college instead of to prison, we can't wait to stop global warming, we cannot wait to bring this war in Iraq to a close, we cannot wait."

Maryland's College Park campus has been the site of several campaign stops ahead of Tuesday's Maryland primary. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gave a speech in the Grand Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union, to a crowd of about 1,000 people on Saturday.

Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton met with a group of several dozen supporters of her mother, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in the food court area of the Student Union on Sunday morning.

One Maryland student who attended all three rallies, said, at Obama's event, that she is more sure than ever whom she's going to support.

"Chelsea Clinton was very persuasive yesterday, but I think this is really inspirational. This was different," Jamie Mertc, a freshman government major said, adding that she voted absentee ballot, and she voted for Obama.

Sophomore Arnie Rosner said, after the Obama event, that while he registered as an independent, and won't be able to vote until November, he is still undecided.

"It was a great speech, but I'm still not 100 percent convinced on who I'm going to vote for," Rosner said.

Samantha Nickey, a freshman psychology and art major, who will be voting for the first time on Tuesday, in the Maryland primary, said Obama's speech didn't sway her vote. She is still supporting Clinton.

"It actually kinda made me want to vote for Hillary more, because I just thought it was repetitive and not as defined," Nickey said.

"I just think that she is more, going to get the job done," she added. "He's trying to be inspiring, but I don't know exactly if that means gets the job done as well."

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