Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dear Mr. President

President Barack Obama soaks in the applause at Michigan Stadium. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Dear Mr. President,  May 1, 2010

I just wanted to let you know how cool it was to have you in town today for Michigan’s commencement – despite the brevity of your visit, it was a day I won’t soon forget.

In my 25-year career as a photojournalist, you’re now the fifth President of the United States that I’ve shot … errr, photographed (note to self: remember to use proper vernacular at all times when referring to the President – e.g. it’s okay to say that you’re going to “shoot” a football game, but never the President).

I guess that means I’m getting old. Actually, you and I are near the same age. Maybe that’s why I like you so much – I can relate. We’re both a pair of 40-somethings from the Midwest with young children. Okay, so maybe that’s where the similarities end, but it still feels like we’re cut from the same cloth.

It occurred to me more than once today, that you’re just a flesh and blood human being going through life the very same as everyone else on the planet. Heck, three years ago I could have met you on the street and shook your hand, maybe had lunch and chatted about the White Sox.

A secret service agent keeps his eye on the crowd. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Of course, those days are over. Now you’ve got guys 100-feet above me with high-powered binoculars and sniper rifles at the ready, not to mention the countless secret service agents in the crowd – some quite obvious, but some, I’ll bet, deeply undercover as college students or parents. Some of the other photographers even looked awfully suspicious … hmmm, I wonder?

I’ve been in this Stadium nearly a hundred times now for Michigan football games. A lot of folks around here get goose bumps and nearly pee their pants when they see the Wolverines run out of the tunnel and rush onto the field. That’s never been the case with me – that is, until today, when you emerged from the tunnel.

I gotta say, it really took me by surprise too. I never expected to feel that way, but I did, and you’re not even a whole team. Maybe it was the lack of sleep (your visit caused us all to be up and ready by 6 a.m. for security checks, but I don’t hold it against you) or maybe it was the “build up” to your actual arrival. Whatever it was, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

I knew your itinerary - the White House let everyone in the media know of your arrival and departure times, as well as all where we should be and what we should expect - but, they never said anything about how we should feel. At 10:30 a.m., I knew you had arrived and were probably in the locker room, or a staging area in the tunnel, and without knowing, or expecting it, I started getting excited.

I thought for sure you would be walking onto the stage with Governor Granholm, or UM President Mary Sue Coleman, or at the very least, a couple of armed escorts. But they walked out alone, and then, almost without warning, there you were, walking out of the tunnel and onto the stage all by yourself, save for the American flag you walked past on your way to your seat.

President Obama emerges from the Michigan Stadium tunnel. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

At that moment I actually got choked up, and I don’t think I could say that if it were any other American President. It’s not that I’m a fierce Democrat. It’s more that I just found myself really liking you as a person when you campaigned for President, and still liking you two-years later as you’ve struggled to remain sane in your current job.

I’ll never forget how this campus reacted that November night, 18-months ago, when these very students who sat you before you today, spontaneously rushed into the streets and onto The Diag the night you were elected. No cars were flipped over and burned. No windows were smashed. People just ran joyously through the streets, hugging and crying, and screaming out a roar of hope.

Wide-eyed graduate waiting for President Obama to arrive. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

And today you were here – their man! The very first President they voted for in their lives. I voted for you too, as I suspect, did the majority of the 92,000 people sitting in the stadium. It’s the second biggest crowd, apart from your inauguration, that you’ve spoken too - certainly the largest venue. But you didn’t seem nervous at all, in fact, you seem awfully cool. I’m the one that was nervous, and I was 60-yards away, locked into position on my assigned riser.

You were pretty funny too. It’s nice to have a President who can poke fun at himself. And despite the tough times, as of late, it’s nice to know your message hasn’t changed. You still seem like the very same guy who won me over two years ago on your way to election.

I feel for you as you continue on your journey, and I wish you all the best. We’ll most likely never meet face to face, but I just wanted you to know, that I, and everyone else in that stadium today, feels like we just did.

Thanks Mr. President (or can I call you Barack?) you made my day a memorable one.


Lon Horwedel - photojournalist and humble constituent

P.S. Nice touch with the Marine One flyover on your departure, I know you didn’t have to do that, but it was super cool!


  1. Amazing statement when all he has done is LIE to you since the very beginning of his "career"...... shaking head in disbelief....

  2. Nice article. I was surprised myself that I felt like tearing up while watching. So not like me, but good to know I'm not alone.

  3. Very nice, Lon. Your writing and photography always comes from the heart.

  4. Man... that Vicky chic needs to get a life... great story and superb photography... I guess that is why you get paid for what you do..!

  5. Hi Lon,
    I too am a photojournalist. I think the presidential count is up to 6 for me. Now that I'm in my mid-50s I've finally learned to trust my gut. While photographing these guys on the campaign trail I've felt vibes, or whatever about each candidate. In retrospect, these feelings were right on target. From Reagan, to Bush 1, Billy Clinton, Bush the Lesser, all of their opponents, and now Obama. I felt genuinely shook up by this guy, in a good way. It's the first time I've ever photographed a candidate who thinks. And I'm pretty sure that's what scares his detractors.

  6. Lon -- I have always enjoyed your writing and your photographs. I'm with you on this one, for sure. For the detractors out there -- let me see you walk a mile in his shoes and see how you do.
    Lon, thanks for sharing what you felt and saw.


  7. Excellent piece. We feel the same way about President Obama here in this house.

  8. I *love* this post and the photo of the graduate is simply beautiful. I look forward to spending more time on your blog to see your work.

    Your feelings are shared by many in my adopted home of Ann Arbor; thanks for explaining it so well.

  9. Well done as usual. I can't believe you don't get choked up at the football games. Ha!