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Friday, May 6, 2016

Crowded, content house hears Clinton lecture

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Former President Bill Clinton (right) confers with John Gregg, a 2012 Democrat candidate for Indiana governor, Friday afternoon before heading into a private reception at the Dixie Chopper Business Center at the Putnam County Airport.
As of shortly after noon Friday, the lines for President Bill Clinton's speech at the DePauw University Lilly Center numbered in the dozens. At approximately the same time, the line at the Greencastle McDonald's was slightly more impressive.

An hour later, though, public demand had caught up with expectations. The student line stretched from Lilly's east entrance to the intersection of College and Hanna streets.

The public line eventually went from Lilly's north entrance, around the east side of the Julian Center, curling back west along Hanna Street.

Needless to say, the crowd filled Neal Fieldhouse to hear the 42nd U.S. President speak. It wasn't quite packed to the rafters, but DePauw media relations director Ken Owen estimated attendance at 5,000, the capacity of the fieldhouse.

The university was prepared for the overflow, with seating next door in the Green Center's Kresge Auditorium. Anyone who didn't make it in could have watched the speech on a closed-circuit feed.

It turned out Plan B wasn't necessary.

"I didn't hear any complaints," Owen said. "We closed the doors briefly because we thought we were going to have to start the event earlier than we did. I don't think anybody was waiting outside at that point. Then some more people showed up late and we were able to get them in."

The biggest inconveniences were likely for those who arrived early. While they got first pick of seats, they also spent the most time in temperatures hovering in the cold -- if not freezing -- temperatures.

A west wind turned the space between Lilly and Julian into a wind tunnel, but the crowds made the best of their time.

High school students mingled with retirees. Petitioners for President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign came around asking for signatures. A demonstrator carried a sign thanking Clinton for going vegan.

Indiana University graduate student Adam Clemons read a copy of Clinton's new book "Back to Work" while he waited. It turned out he had more in common with the president than owning his book -- they are fellow Arkansans.

"I have to represent for my state's native son," Clemons said. "I was looking for book signings but when I found out he was only going to be an hour away, I had to go."

Clemons added that a previous missed opportunity compelled him to drive north to Greencastle.

"When the Clinton Library opened in Little Rock I was a student in Arkansas and I didn't go," he said. "I regret it so I had to take advantage of this."

If any DePauw students end up with the same regret, they can blame themselves. With the floor plan open across all three basketball courts, Neal has a seating capacity of twice the school's enrollment.

The student doors opened at 1 p.m., with the public doors opening 30 minutes later. However, security personnel checked student IDs, while the security measures were non-intrusive at the public door.

The public streamed in as the student line continued to crawl.

In the end there were plenty of seats to be had, so the day ended free of controversy.

"Whenever you have an event this size you're bound to make somebody unhappy, but I've yet to hear a gripe," Owen said. "I'm very, very pleased."

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