Mineola High School 2012 Salutatorian a Presidential Debate Volunteer

Zachary Englis recounts his time spent behind the scenes at the Presidential debate at Hofstra.

Picking a college was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I finally chose to attend Hofstra University, for various reasons; scholarship, classes, and location. I knew that the second 2012 Presidential Debate was coming to Hofstra, but I never really thought that I would be so lucky as to get involved.

I have always had a love of volunteering and when I received an e-mail in late June/early July about volunteering for the debate in October, I couldn’t help but sign up. It was a while before I heard anything, but then came the day when I received another e-mail that I was going to be volunteering in ticket distribution for the debate.

“Wow!” is what comes to mind when I think back on that day. I was so excited to get started, but to my dismay I was only involved in one pre-debate meeting where we were told a general idea of what we should expect come debate day. Then came the waiting game.

It was very interesting to realize we wouldn’t know exactly what we would be doing because most of the debate security, especially within the debate perimeter, was being run by the Secret Service. Obviously the security of the President of the United States of America was the top priority and you can’t help but respect that.

However, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 finally came around, and I headed out on the road to Hofstra at 5:30 a.m. (just in case I would have run into any trouble with the road closures around Hofstra).

I began my volunteer hours by helping out the networks, NBC, CBS, FOX, PIX, etc. As a volunteer for these network’s early morning shows, I assisted in anyway they needed, mostly as a background person being excited for “Hofstra Pride Debate 2012.” Even through the cold morning hours it was an incredible and memorable experience. I got the opportunity to even meet some of the reporters such as NBC 4 NY’s Katherine Creag.

From about 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. I had the luxury of just experiencing all the events taking place on campus which only heightened the level of excitement around campus. Most notably was Issue Alley, which was taking place in the Student Center’s Main Dining Hall. Here all the clubs and organizations around campus were expressing issues that pertain to their clubs and what hits them as important issues for discussion. From health care to the economy to equality for all, there was a wide array of issues and it was amazing to see people be so passionate about issues that they feel need to be addressed.

However, my time spent at Issue Alley was cut quite short due to my volunteering with the ticket distribution team at the Nassau Coliseum. All of us involved in ticket distribution were required to either get to the Coliseum on our own, or request to ride on a bus over to the Coliseum. I chose to ride on the bus with my fellow volunteers and thus we left from Hofstra USA, where the lucky winners of a ticket to the debate were also meeting to get bused to the Coliseum as well. Mostly everyone was dressed in such formal attire; only the best wear was appropriate for the Presidential Debate.

Once at the Coliseum it was like a scene out of “The Dark Knight Rises” with Nassau County Police, New York State Troopers and Secret Service swarming around the area, a scene right out of the movie was being played right before me, it was astonishing.

This being the last ventricle before the debate hall back on campus, it was only right that security was so tight. As we waited, we were briefed on what we would be doing.

Basically, helping the guests find the correct tables to pick up their tickets (four tables were situated for the guests to pick up: Hofstra University; Romney/ Ryan; Commission on Presidential Debates; and Obama/Biden). I was stationed at Gate 10, right next to the Obama/Biden ticket table.

As guests started to arrive we guided them to the correct tables, as well as helped them along to get a quick bite to eat (as no food would be allowed into the debate hall or past the Secret Service).

After they were done eating they were screened by the Secret Service and brought directly on to the shuttle busses and back to Hofstra through the perimeter and into the debate hall.

It was a privilege for us as volunteers to be able to basically meet all the people who would be going to see the debate. Everyone was extremely nice and respectful, as we were to them, as we guided them along.

From Congressmen to Hofstra students, there was an array and wide diversity of individuals there that were attending the debate.

Over the next 5 hours I actually began to question whether or not I should have volunteered for the debate. I wondered to myself, had I entered the lottery would I have been picked to go? Well I guess we will never know that, but to my amazement at about 7:30 p.m., the woman who we were working for came to each one of us and said, “You’re going to the debate” and walked away.

I was so caught off guard that I think it didn’t hit me right away and then once I processed this surreal moment it put the largest smile on my face. I won the best ticket that even the lottery system could never have given me. I was able to have the once in a lifetime chance to be one of the few to volunteer for the debate as well as have the once in a lifetime chance to actually attend the Second Presidential Debate in this 2012 election.

“Wow!” is all that I can think of to correctly describe what was going through my mind at this point.

Just as my fellow volunteers and I had been directing the lucky debate attendees, we were now headed in the same direction. Screened by the Secret Service and onto the shuttles back to Hofstra and it didn’t seem that our luck ran out there. Blocking our path for a few minutes as cars, motorcycles, bikes, etc. drove passed with bright flashing lights, it had to be President Obama’s motorcade.


As we pulled up to the debate hall and got off the shuttle, media and security were everywhere. We quickly entered the debate hall and found our seats, as we were about to be a part of and witness, American history unfold before our very eyes. In that moment I knew that this was where I belonged.

Zachary Englis is a member of the Mineola High School Class of 2012 and the salutatorian. He is a member of the Hofstra University Class of 2016.


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