President Barack Obama spoke to a crowded Baxter Arena on Jan. 13.

A former Ralston High School teacher and current University of Nebraska at Omaha instructor and a group of students got the chance to get closer than most.

Ferial Pearson, an instructor in UNO’s College of Education, was able to sit behind President Obama during his speech after receiving tickets from the dean.

“It was behind the stage,” Pearson said. “That was the only place press could take pictures. There were quite a few people there in the section I was in.”

Pearson was able to take students from the Student Diversity Organization, a fairly new organization at UNO.

“Dr. Rebecca Pasco [UNO education professor], it was her idea,” Pearson said. “She’s phenomenal. She felt minority students or students from underrepresented groups needed a place to be. Students take the lead in what happens at our meetings.”

Having the opportunity to see a sitting president speak was very special for Pearson.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I cried when he came out and was like ‘Why am I crying? I’m seeing the back of his head.’”

Pearson’s students in the Student Diversity Organization were also excited to see President Obama speak.

“The students I was with were just over the moon,” she said.

“I had a student from Sudan— she’s Muslim— she was over the moon. Here was someone with African heritage like her and Muslim heritage like her.”

Pearson said that the organization hasn’t had a meeting yet to discuss the speech, but Pearson said she and the students were glad to hear the president address issues they discuss.

“They were talking about how inclusive he was in his speech. He kind of legitimized who we are,” Pearson said.

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