By Steven Keehner
I was chosen to be one of five lucky students along with AP Government teacher Ms. Harnick to represent Oyster Bay High School at the Hofstra Debate Day on September 26th. This was truly a unique experience for all of my classmates and me. From 9 am until nearly midnight, my day was a nonstop roller coaster of events, whether it was watching a panel of journalists discuss the issues regarding the United States today, to appearing on ABC News at 4, or watching the debate in Breslin Hall.
Much like Hofstra’s Student Journalist Day, Debate Day began with all of the students and teachers meeting for a standard lecture by the Debate 2016 staff, who gave everyone a welcome and a rundown of what was going to be happening for the day. By the time this wrapped up, everyone gathered their belongings and proceeded to the Debate Day Media Panel.
The panel featured an interesting variety of journalists, including Rita Ciolli, Editorial Page Editor of Newsday; Jared Rizzi, White House Correspondent, SIRIUSXM radio; and Paul Middelhof, Campaign Correspondent of the German newspaper Die Zeit. The discussion was moderated by Meena Bose, a professor at the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency. The journalists talked about reporting stories based around the 2016 Presidential Election and double standards within society, among other topics. They later took questions from the student audience regarding the topics previously mentioned. It was a very informative and interesting event. I would also like to point out that Jared Rizzi is incredibly hilarious. Overall, this was a much better event than the panel I would see later in the day, but I’ll talk about this later.
Following the first panel of journalists, we got to go see the festival that had been set up outside. It was unbelievable to see so many major news companies such as NBC, FOX, CNN, and others reporting on this, but of course this was a massive event, so I wasn’t shocked. It was packed with people who supported Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and even Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein. The excitement was palpable throughout the entire area. We weren’t there for too long, though, because we had to head in to see a show.
The show was a play was entitled “Democracy in Performance-Presidential Politics 1872.” This show was interesting, to say the least. It involved actors and actresses performing as many notable figures, such as Victoria Woodhull, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Shirley Chisholm. While the actors performed very well, it was organized in a rather odd and confusing way, with the actors/actresses taking Q&A in character, and then out of character, and vice versa. By this point, we were only three hours into our day, and we still had about 12 hours to go.
The next relevant event wouldn’t occur until about 3pm, when we were able to go to The Netherlands (The Hofstra Hall, not the country, unfortunately) and we weren’t necessarily sure why we were there. They eventually sat us down in rows, and it didn’t take us long to discover that we were sitting behind the set of ABC News at 4! It was very exciting to be on TV a number of times; I even got my sign taken away by a producer (but that’s a story for another time). It was also entertaining to see the face of one of my classmates when she discovered the camera was recording while she was feasting on cotton candy (if you re-watch it, it’s hilarious.) Following this exciting moment, we went back to Breslin Hall for the second of the two panels, the CNN panel.
To call this a discussion of politics/journalism would be a stretch at times. This is definitely my being a cynical teenager, but I saw this to be more of a CNN plug for a new series (Documentary? Web exclusive? They didn’t even really know yet) that they were currently working on. It got incredibly awkward when a student called out the group of CNN workers for being biased. That was probably the most notable highlight I took from this event. Following the discussion, we had dinner in the dining hall. About an hour later, we made our way back to Breslin Hall for the main event of the evening, the Presidential Debate.
The Debate could be a two or three page article in itself, but from our perspective, we were all seated in the same theater we had been in a few times already by this point because of the panels. The debate was streamed on a big screen for all of us to watch. It was certainly an interesting debate, one which revealed many of the students to be divided between the two candidates.
By 11:30 pm, we finally got on the bus and made our way back home. To call the day exhausting would be a massive understatement. While it may have been tiring, it certainly wasn’t boring to me. It was exciting to see so many young people interested in the political process, whether it was the high school students or the many, many college students. This was a once in a lifetime experience, and one that I promise I won’t forget anytime soon.
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