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Invitation to the Rose Garden: Sophomore Invited to hear President Obama at White House

04/12/12
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Joseph Manning (left) at the White House with Sierra Student Coalition co-leader Quentin James.

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Apr. 12, 2012

Sophomore Joseph Manning was excited enough about his plans for the March 30-April 1 weekend, when he would present his research at a conference in Virginia. What could top that?

How about an invitation to hear President Obama speak at the White House? Better yet: to hear President Obama talk about energy policy — which just happens to be one of Manning’s favorite subjects.

A Presidential Scholar and political science major from Orlando, Fla., Manning is chair of the executive committee of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), the Sierra Club’s college and high school-age chapter. So it seemed quite fitting when he and another SSC leader were invited to attend the president’s talk about rising oil prices in the White House Rose Garden on March 29.

But the invitation came just as Manning was preparing to go to Virginia Tech along with six other Boston College students for the seventh annual ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference. The event, funded partly by revenue from athletic events, highlights undergraduate research and scholarship at the 12 ACC member schools. Manning was to give a talk about his research project on renewable energy in Nova Scotia.

Still, he wasn’t about to pass up a chance like this, so after wrangling some overnight accommodations Manning set off for Washington, DC, and the next morning joined approximately 70 guests gathered in the Rose Garden.

“It’s quite an experience,” says Manning. “You have to go through all the security, and then wait for the event to actually start. But there you are, 10 feet away from the President of the United States.”

But Manning was not so bedazzled so as to lose his analytical bearings. From an environmentalist’s point of view, he found Obama’s 20-minute speech “a mixed bag”: on the one hand, encouraging in his call to the Senate to end subsidies for oil and gas companies, and for increased conservation and reduced consumption of energy; on the other, disappointing in his support for new drilling initiatives.

“It’s really about what I expected, and very consistent with what I’ve seen from him,” says Manning. “Obama came to the presidency as a moderate Democrat, trying to find middle ground after a very divisive eight-year Bush Administration. And he’s not having much luck.”

Having heard the speech unvarnished, Manning found it enlightening to observe the subsequent reaction in political and media circles. “There were probably about four dozen interpretations: lots of environmentalists irritated about the drilling portion, conservatives who focused on the conservation aspects, and various degrees in-between. And then the Senate failed to approve the end of the oil and gas subsidies.”

Manning posted his own take on the speech in the Sierra Club blog, at http://bit.ly/HzDL87.

By the way, the rest of Manning’s weekend went well, too: “The Meeting of the Minds Conference was fantastic. I was just amazed to see the research being done by other undergraduates, both at BC and the other ACC schools. This was a remarkable experience.”