Welcome to the Rock, Barack: Thousands fill Mile One for evening with Obama

Submitted by David Howells

Thousands of people filled Mile One Centre in St. John's on Tuesday night to hear the 44th president of the United States speak about climate change, misinformation — and hope.

Barack Obama sat on stage for about an hour, answering questions from Zita Cobb, the social entrepreneur behind the Fogo Island Inn, a luxury hotel in her hometown.

Sitting in chairs handmade on Fogo Island, Cobb welcomed Obama, who hails from Hawaii, and called him a "fellow islander."

"The performance was spectacular. Barack Obama was everything you'd imagine him to be," said attendee Kathy Hodgkinson on the steps of Mile One.

"He was measured and intelligent and thoughtful, and it was a privilege to be here tonight to listen to him."

Local talent sets stage

The evening opened with music from Alan Doyle, Tim Baker, and the Shallaway Youth Choir. 

The St. John's Board of Trade, which hosted the event, said it didn't sell out, but more than 5,000 people attended. 

Submitted by David Howells

The board wouldn't say how much it cost to organize the event. Tickets cost $100 to $325 while meet-and-greet packages, which included several tickets and photos with Obama, went for as much as $10,000.

Message of hope

The conversation between innkeeper and world leader focused largely on community, climate change, and democracy. 

Obama said people should not feel hopeless about climate change; the world will look different but there are ways to grapple with the differences, he said.

He argued for "responsible capitalism" as part of the solution to job insecurity, which, he contended, leads to nationalism. 

Submitted by David Howells

Radical movements are growing fast, he warned, because of the proliferation of misinformation on social media networks, and he called on his audience to think critically about where they get their information. 

True to style, Obama's message was a hopeful acknowledgement of the world's problems and an offer of solutions. 

It resonated deeply with Memorial University student Mehzabin Chowdhury, 19.

"For students like us, coming all the way from Bangladesh, it was a life-changing opportunity," she said.

"He's a great leader. I've always looked up to him."

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