Warwick, R.I. — Students, press and political junkies began gathering hours ahead of former President Bill Clinton’s visit to CCRI’s Knight Campus Thursday to stump for his wife, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
By noon, the main hall of the building and ramps winding above it were filled with spectators. On the second ramp, friends Igor Lavrushko, Helder Mendes and Tina Gelinas, all CCRI Knight Campus students, gazed over the main floor as they waited for the former president’s appearance.
Gelinas said she was “Most definitely,” excited about seeing Bill Clinton, who was president when she graduated high school in 1993.
“And now for his wife to be running and I’m here to see it, I think, is a great experience,” She said.
“We have a friend who’s speaking,” said Skylar Florio on the main floor.
Florio was with friends including fellow CCRI student Ben Saccoiccio, on the first floor to watch the event, more for their friend, Student Body President Dave Sears, than for the former president.
When Sears began speaking, he asked the crowd to bear with him as he gathered his thoughts.
“I just had a brief conversation with President Bill Clinton,” Sears said.
Sears told his fellow students their participation can make a vital difference in the 2016 presidential election.
“The biggest misconception in America is that your vote and voice doesn’t count,” Sears said.
Gov. Gina Raimondo backed up the importance of students’ participation in the political process, asking for them to register to vote, and to vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
“If you haven’t registered to vote yet, get out there and register. We need you. Rhode Island needs you,” Raimondo said, “… and Hillary needs you.”
The call to action was met by robust applause, with a few boos from the back. Raimondo also asked the crowd for their help speaking to voters about Hillary, knocking on doors and making phone calls. The crowd greeted that call with more applause.
But the crowd reserved their cheers for Raimondo’s introduction of Clinton. “Let’s give the man from Hope, Arkansas, a warm welcome from the family of the state whose motto his hope, ladies and gentlemen, President Bill Clinton.”
Clinton approached the stage from the right as the crowd continued to cheer, and spoke for a about 35 minutes, touching on Hillary’s plans to aid small business, promote clean energy, achieve equal pay for women, affordable universal health care and reforms for college debt.
“A college loan is the only loan in America you cannot refinance, so let’s start with that,” Clinton said, earning some of the strongest applause from the crowd during his speech. Clinton said if students were allowed to refinance their education loans, “Overnight, 25 million young Americans would save two thousand bucks.”
Student loan forgiveness can only be applied to federal student loans, Clinton said, so Hillary plans to allow students to consolidate all their student loans into something resembling a home mortgage. “Because, an college education is more of a lifetime asset than a house is,” Clinton said.
Also, for any person entering a public service career: law enforcement, firefighting, social workers and teachers. After a year, Clinton said, that person would receive $24,000, tax free, to be applied against your student debt.
The proposals were very popular with the crowd, peopled largely by college students of all ages.