It all began during the spring semester of my sophomore year at Santa Monica College. It was still 2013, and I was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the largest and most prestigious honor society serving two-year community colleges in the United States. As I skillfully paved my path through the honor society, the true birth of this initiative occurred to me during my term as a board member. Within the first couple weeks of my spring semester, I was appointed vice president of leadership by the society’s president. This position required me to secure speakers at our weekly forums and enabled me to hold the greatest leadership role after that of the president. I knew I must take advantage of such an opportunity. Although I had always been engaged in politics, this was the moment my attention immediately turned to our nation’s leader. Little did I know at the time that this initiative would lead me to UC Berkeley and gain such tremendous progress.
As a community-college student, I witnessed the negative effects of state budget cuts on public institutions and realized how detrimental this would be to a majority of government schools decades from now. Whether it was a shortage of faculty, a decrease in campus personnel, a raised unit cost, a shortage in parking spaces or a lack of financial aid, academic discomfort was striking students from all possible angles. By my sophomore year, I was well aware of these circumstances and knew something needed to be done to raise the hopes of these struggling students. Being a member of an elite honor society and part of a program that enabled students to access early registration, I knew thousands of students who weren’t a part of these programs or societies were fighting for classes and, often times, weren’t even able to enroll. I began to realize how privileged everyone in Phi Theta Kappa was and how we needed to collectively take action to restore the hopes of these struggling students. As the vice president of leadership, I took it beyond my required tasks to reach out to President Barack Obama. Since the 2008 election, I have been very fond of Obama and his position on a variety of issues. I was lucky enough, as were millions of Americans, to witness the first African American president of the United States take office. With the political barriers that were broken with the president’s inauguration, I found myself becoming mesmerized with such a revolutionary election and noticed my interest in politics quickly growing. During his term, Obama has enabled further accessibility to college and enhanced education opportunities. The president has also supported higher public education through bills such as the DREAM Act and has showed his commitment to it countless times behind his desk. But this time, I felt it would be beneficial for him to personally address the college campus during such difficult times. I sent an official invitation to the White House, and then I received a phone call from an unknown number. It was the White House, calling me to deliver the unfortunate news that Obama had considered the event and greatly appreciated the invitation but would be unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts. The news struck me with grief as I witnessed my effort to bring the president to Santa Monica College quickly deteriorate. For a split second, everything around me fell apart, and I realized my goal would be unattainable. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, however, that I received an acceptance letter from UC Berkeley and knew that I had the ultimate second chance.
I transferred to UC Berkeley in the fall of 2013, and I have been immersed in this effort ever since. Although I was not able to have the president speak at my community college, I saw a bright light at the end of the long tunnel at UC Berkeley. I knew this institution’s prestige and honor would earn us the opportunity to bring Obama to our campus, so I began working on it immediately. By October, I had assembled a small committee of students called “Students For Obama at Berkeley.” Although we were quite a strong team, the name restricted membership to students of specific political backgrounds, so I changed it to “Students For Change at Berkeley.” The term “change” parallels Obama’s use of the term in his campaign. The term “change” meant progress to him, and it has the same definition for us. Although our initiative for him to speak will not be for Santa Monica College, the principle behind the invitation remains. As UC Berkeley is the leading public institution in the world, it would be a prime location for Obama to address the current and future status of one of the nation’s most fundamental entities for the American people. With time, we have gained tremendous endorsements from credible supporters such as UC President Janet Napolitano, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Dean Christopher Edley Jr., Eric Schickler and many more. Now, with such amazing support, we will be sending a formal invitation to Obama to deliver the 2015 commencement address as we assemble a short film for the president to watch.
Lastly, I would like to thank the UC Berkeley campus and neighboring cities for their support in helping make our dream become a reality.
Elias Saigali is a student at UC Berkeley and the president of Students for Change at Berkeley.