An exclusive Q&A with our own president

Ryan Cortes

Photo by Charles Pratt.

It is 7:34 p.m. and Student Body President Ayden Maher is exhausted. For the last 10 hours he has been scrambling around campus, shaking hands here, smiling over there, politicking all over the place. Despite that, there is something he wants to show me, slumped shoulders and all.

He furiously clicks away on his computer and up pops a video of President Barack Obama. Maher’s shoulders stop slumping and his weary pout transforms into a smile. A big one.

“Thank you,” the president beams into the microphone. “Well, it is great to be back in Florida. It is great to be back in Boca. Great to be here, at the home of the Fighting Owls. I want to first of all thank Ayden, for not only leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, but also giving me great details about the burrowing owls. He explained it all to me. And then he told me he wants my job. And I explained to him that the constitution requires you are 35 years old. So I will keep the seat warm for him. For a few years.”

Maher stops the video and turns to me. His face is red, the V-shaped vein on his forehead beginning to bulge. This is the kind of pride no politician can hide.

What follows is my exclusive Q&A with our own president:

UP: So you’re sitting 10 feet from Obama when you hear him say your name. What goes through your head?

Maher: I was cheesing pretty hard. You just get caught so up in the moment, not just because he’s mentioning your name, but because he’s at FAU and you got 3,000 screaming students and professors — and I don’t know, man. You just take it all in. It’s remarkable.

UPAs you’re waiting in the hallway at the back of The Burrow and Obama shows up, what’s that scene like?

Maher: You just hear the hum of motorcycles. The Secret Service is there. Once the doors open and his staff gets out and the press gets out, he just walks right up that hallway and shakes President [Mary Jane] Saunders’s hand and shakes her husband’s hand and takes a picture. I was next after them. It was amazing how down to earth and real the president of the United States was. Obviously it’s a glorified position, but talk about being very humble, very personable — he was excellent at doing that and he was very kind.

UPAfter meeting him and all the hoopla settles down, there’s still a speech. What’d you make of it?

Maher: People tend to think he’s a polarizing figure, but his speech was focused on students. He definitely played to the audience. He talked about student loans, student debt, pell grants, reforming student loans and also help for the middle class. I think he spoke to what the audience wanted to hear, but I don’t think it was a polarizing speech. He talked about bringing up a strong middle class, and I don’t think republicans or democrats would disagree with that.

UPOnly students and faculty were allowed to attend, yet Obama talked about the Buffett Rule — without giving tickets to Boca’s top 1 percent. Didn’t he want to talk to them?

Maher: I don’t think he didn’t want to talk to them, he came into their backyard. That message resonates with students. Students are trying to make it in the workforce, sometimes we just need help. Most students aren’t wealthy, some may come from a wealthy background, but the message definitely resonated with his audience.

UPYou’ve mentioned before that you didn’t expect to meet Obama today, didn’t even expect to talk to him. If you were told this morning that you’d meet him, that he’d even be mentioning your name, how would you react?

Maher: Probably wouldn’t believe you. It’s humbling. It’s a good day, I guess. [My parents] call me JFK. [laughs]. They think I’m going to be the next JFK. It’s one of those things that you’ll go to bed at night and wonder if it actually happened.

UPWas there anything Obama said that you disagreed with?

Maher: To be honest with you, no. I connected with a lot from his speech because I’m a student who benefited from the student loan reformat. I’m not going to be charged high interest, I went to college all four years on a pell grant, I come from an immigrant family, I come from a middle-class family, so I connect well with everything he said today.

UPWhat was the worst part of today, the day you met, talked to, and were complimented by the president of the United States?

Maher: The end. Why would you want that to end?