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What a day it was to be a University at Buffalo student.

If the excitement of moving-in day wasn’t enough, thousands of arriving students got their first glimpse of the most powerful man on the planet.

“It’s just two really big events happening at once,” said Mary Agarwala, a freshman from Jamestown. “I was like, oh, my gosh, it’s just going to be the craziest day ever.”

That’s what it turned out to be for many, with the secluded North Campus turning into a whirring center of action as President Obama gave a speech on higher education.

It was doubly thrilling for Agarwala, who arrived at campus just hours ahead of the president.

Agarwala got inside Alumni Arena by volunteering to direct the massive crowds that stretched a quarter-mile across campus.

She tried to juggle the excitement of a historic event with the job of unpacking in her dorm room. The entire experience was surreal, she said.

“I never thought I’d be directing White House delegates and a bunch of football frat boys,” she said. “This will make it hard to forget.”

Mack Ward, a junior computer engineering and mathematics major from Clarence, said he never considered scalping his ticket to the president’s speech.

“Wouldn’t pass on an opportunity like this,” said Ward, 19. “He was a lot more charismatic than I found him to be on TV.”

Students said Obama’s message on keeping college costs down was relevant to them and to other students their age, even though most consider UB to be a great deal already.

“He touched on a lot of things we needed to hear,” said Portia Winn, a junior medical student. “What he said about debt, it stuck out to me because my mom is in debt, and I’ll need to pay for loans as I go on to grad school and beyond.”

The president’s message about performance was a wake-up call to students, she added.

“Some of my friends, they go to college just because their parents told them to,” she said. “You need to take advantage of all the courses; don’t waste your time.”

Others liked Obama’s plan to evaluate colleges based on how their students perform instead of how many simply enroll.

“We need to focus on quality over quantity,” Hardeep Kaar said. “Then it just becomes a money game, a business, instead of focusing on education.”

Not all students were transfixed on what the president had to say.

As the leader of the free world prepared to take the stage in Alumni Arena, freshman Ana Arias was more concerned about getting her dorm room organized.

“I think I’ve got better things to do right now,” she said.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com