Elon students share about experience on the presidential campaign trail

In this first-person account, two Elon students participating in the "The President Campaign Starts Here" Winter Term program in South Carolina and New Hampshire recount their experience hearing President Joe Biden speak in Charleston, South Carolina on Monday, Jan. 8.

By: Lindsay Bialecki ’26 and Tori Kelleher ’24

Studying political science, it is one thing to talk in class about Biden’s campaign. It is another to stand 100 feet away from the podium at a historic church and watch the current president address his constituents.

Tori Kelleher ’24, left, and Lindsay Bialecki ’26

As young voters, hearing from President Biden was a life-changing experience. Biden speaking about issues such as gun violence and fighting for our democracy spoke to us and made us feel like there was a candidate out there who was looking out for people our age. There is an urgency to protect our generation from the dangers of gun violence and make sure our civil liberties prevail, and hearing President Biden speak about these topics made me feel seen as a voter and as a young person in this country.

After this opportunity, we feel we are better able to come back to campus and advocate for students to get involved and be civically active in their communities. The unity and comfort we felt in that church cannot be understated, and not because of the politics of the people there, but because of the confidence the room had in young people and their ability to pave the way forward.

The Sunday before seeing President Biden take the stage, our class attended the 10 a.m. service at Mother Emanuel and received incredible background on the church from the authors of “We Are Charleston.” Learning about not only the shooting in 2015 but also the creation of African Methodist Episcopal as an institution provided the context that our class needed going into Monday’s event. Knowing the story behind the congregation helped us better understand the people we would be surrounded by and the grief they have experienced these last eight years.

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This history was particularly helpful for interpreting and appreciating Biden’s speech as his focus was on gun violence, systemic racism, and unity. Hearing him speak about issues that resonate so personally with both the attendees and the national audience was nothing short of moving. It was unbelievable to both see and feel the emotion in the room when he discussed the Emanuel Nine and how both gun violence and racism have done irreparable damage to this country. Having experienced this in person, we will forever have a new perspective on South Carolinians and their importance in this election.