AMHERST — AMHERST — For many lucky enough to land a ticket to see President Barack Obama speak in Amherst it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The crowd of largely college-aged students, a group that has twice proved a vital part of the coalition that elevated Obama to the Oval Office, didn't disappoint this time either. Roaring their approval when a video screen showed Air Force One landing in Cheektowaga — and again when Obama bounded on stage — those in attendance offered the nation's commander-in-chief a hearty Western New York welcome.
They even forgave an early gaffe when Obama called Democratic congressman Brian Higgins "mayor" — transposing Higgins' title with that of Byron Brown, the city of Buffalo's actual mayor.
"Here's what happens when you get to be 52 years old," Obama quipped to a laugh from the crowd.
Obama spoke for 38 minutes to more than 7,000 people in a hot and humid Alumni Arena, his first stop on a four-city, two-day bus tour to promote a new higher education initiative aimed at driving down the cost of getting a college degree. His speech in Western New York was billed as the major policy address around which the tour was planned and it received national media attention.
The line to get into the arena stretched around the road that loops through campus, so far that the arena could not be seen behind the last person in line at 10:20 a.m., just under an hour before Obama was scheduled to speak.
A pair of Niagara University students were in that line moving slowly toward the arena in anticipation of the president’s remarks on lowering the cost of a college education.
Andrea Nicolia, a senior education major, said she was excited to hear the president speak about an issue that so directly applies to her situation as a college student.