United States President Barack Obama’s decision to deliver the first in a tour of speeches about the economy from Knox College’s Memorial Gym on July 24th will have positive consequences for the surrounding Galesburg community, according to Knox students and professors.
Senior Ryan West believed that the immediate effects of the visit would be felt on the day of the speech, with the influx of people traveling to Galesburg meaning more revenue for local businesses. A long-term effect would be the “boost in morale.”
This sentiment was echoed by others, including junior Nicolette Bridgeforth, who described the speech as a “pep talk [the community] needed,” and senior James Lichtenstein, who thought that it would “help instill pride.”
Not all students were as optimistic. Junior Natasha Wright expressed caution against making assumptions about how Galesburg will be affected in the long-run.
“Lots of people who were [in the gym] already seemed to be Obama supporters,” she said. “Hopefully he keeps his word and follows through on what he said he would do.”
Senior and lifetime Galesburg resident Samantha Waight viewed the anticipated effect on morale as both immediate and long-lasting but placed the responsibility of change on those in Galesburg.
“I think the speech will give the Galesburg community an incentive to make itself better,” Waight said, “as well as the confidence to boost its own economy.”
West agreed, emphasizing that a change in perception would not itself produce results, though it could provide motivation to continue in the face of hardship.
“That was the motif of his speech: we’re on our way there but we’re still going,” he said.
As for shifting perceptions of the college in particular as a result of it being chosen as the venue, Associate Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini felt that that depended upon Obama’s actions rather than anything the college could do.
“This speech, if Obama is successful in reshaping the economic path of the United States, will be recalled as the moment where he came out and said, ‘I’m done, I’m not going to be conciliatory anymore, I am going to take on Congress instead of trying to convince them to work with me,’” he said. “Part of how much the speech raises the profile of the college will depend on how successful he is.”
Senior Emily Cooney felt the meaningfulness of the temporary increase in exposure for both the city and the college depended upon whether people outside of Galesburg were willing to look past their initial preconceptions.
“[Knox] is in this little town in the Midwest,” she said, “but it’s such an important town because it’s like a lot of towns in America.”