September 20, 2012 — Coral Gables — A year from now, Arianne Alcorta will take part in an annual ritual that occurs as reliably as the sunrise: recent college students looking for jobs.
The 19-year-old University of Miami junior, who is on track to graduate next spring with a journalism degree, is concerned about job prospects in an employment market that remains thin. So, on September 20, Alcorta asked the nation’s highest authority—President Barack Obama—for his advice on what she and other Latina women should do to be successful in finding work.
UM students in attendance at Barack Obama's one-on-one conversation with Univision took the opportunity to take their own personal photos of the event.
Make sure you get your college degree, Obama told her. “I’ll tell you what I tell my daughters,” he added. “America remains a country where, if you work hard and remain persistent, you can succeed. Some of the battles that were fought before you were born were for opportunities that are opening up for Latina women and African-Americans.”
In the second of two Univision sit-down talks focusing on Hispanic issues, Obama not only addressed Alcorta’s jobs question but answered a host of others, ranging from immigration reform and his goals for a second term of office to education and how his administration has handled security issues in the wake of violence at U.S. embassies abroad.
The day before, Obama’s Republican presidential rival, Governor Mitt Romney, sat in the same seat within UM’s BankUnited Center Fieldhouse, discussing similar issues and answering questions from Univision anchors Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos.
About 300 UM students and other guests attended both forums, getting an in-depth look at the two presidential candidates as the November 6 election quickly approaches.
Obama’s conversation opened with issues abroad. The commander-in-chief first addressed the Arab Spring, explaining that the “larger issue is what will happen as those countries transition from dictatorships to democracy.” He said the United States remains committed to working with them.
President Donna E. Shalala with some of the students who attended the Obama forum.
The conversation also turned to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, “that threaten U.S. interests,” Obama said. Though he pointed out that the U.S. has decimated their leadership, “those forces have not gone away,” he said.
It was the president’s second visit to UM in seven months. Last February he toured UM’s College of Engineering, then touted his energy policies at a rally at the UM Fieldhouse—the same facility used by Univision and Facebook to stage the “Meet the Candidates” forums.
Ana Maria Menda, a UM graduate student seeking a Ph.D. in special education, asked Obama what his administration plans to do to stem the high Latino dropout rate in schools. “First of all, one of my most important plans is to make sure people like you can continue your studies and help solve the problem,” Obama told her.
He also mentioned policies already spearheaded by the White House to help reduce the rate, noting his push to help improve and increase funding for early childhood education and his administration’s support of states that have initiated reforms aimed at reducing dropout rates and hiring better teachers. Many of those schools, he pointed out, are predominately Latino and African-American, and have seen gains in retaining students.
Obama said he has many more goals yet to accomplish—chief among them maintaining a “constant conversation with the American people…That’s why I’m running for a second term. We can build on the progress we’ve made.”
Many students watched the forum via live feed at the Whitten University Center.
Nathalie Regalado, a fourth-year medical student at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, didn’t get the chance to ask Obama her question regarding what could be done to help provide health care to undocumented aliens. From a Haitian man who has made repeated trips to Jackson Memorial’s ER for end-stage kidney failure to a Hispanic female with internal bleeding, Regalado has seen many cases of undocumented aliens with serious health issues but no insurance to get the care they need. She wanted to stress to Obama that safety-net hospitals like Jackson are critical for such patients.
Still, Regalado was happy that she could attend the forum. “Eleven years ago, I was in Cuba and really couldn’t tell people how I felt about my government,” Regalado said. “Today I’m sitting only a few footsteps from the president of the United States. It’s a gift, a great opportunity.”
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