Two Seaford college students were within shouting distance of President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney when the two squared off Tuesday night's pivotal second presidential debate at Hofstra University, and both described the experience as one of the best moments of their young lives.
Ashley Negilia and Kaley Kalista were among a select few Hofstra University students that had the chance to volunteer as ushers in the debate hall Tuesday. The Seaford residents then were granted seats for the big debate, which was viewed by an estimated television audience of more than 65 million.
"It was probably one of the more amazing things I have done in my life," said Neglia, a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset who is a junior at Hofstra double majoring in English and History with a minor in Sociology. "It was unreal."
Neglia and Kalista both arrived at the debate site inside the David. S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at 4 p.m. and began seating the crowd around 7 p.m. two hours before Obama and Romney took the stage. When the town hall-style debated wrapped up just before 10:40 p.m., the ushers handed out CSPAN tote bags as a parting gift to the crowd, which featured politicians and key supporters of the Romney and Obama campaigns as well as 300 Hofstra students selected in a lottery.
"It was one thing to be thinking I'm working the debate and will probably here it in the background as I am performing my volunteer duties but it was another thing once I was given a ticket after myself and the rest of the ushers seated everyone," said Kalista, a graduate student in Hofstra's School of Education after earning her undergraduate degree in Sociology from the university in 2010 with a degree in Sociology. "It was incredible! I felt like I had won the Golden Ticket!"
Kalista, who also had a chance to attend the final 2008 presidential debate at Hofstra as an undergraduate student, said she was motivated to get involved this year as a way to get up to speed on the election.
"This was an opportunity for me to get myself into politics a little more because I lack certain political knowledge and if I were watching it on TV I would have been much more likely to change the channel," said Kalista, a 2006 Seaford High School graduate. "This debate gave me the opportunity to hear the candidates for myself and develop my own opinion on them before the media influences kicked in once I turned the TV on when I got home."
Negilia said she began following politics closely a year ago and in addition to volunteering at the debate also spent time around the MSNBC stage where both Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell hosted lives shows from. The Seaford resident added that she is grateful for Hofstra working to obtain the debate to give her a chance to experience something most college students do not.
"Hofstra does a really great job getting its students involved with the debate," she said. "This is something I will never forget."