On the grass by Airport Road, under the hum of a circling state police helicopter, a boy of about 8 stood and waited with his family last Wednesday. For an hour at least, he clasped a charming handwritten message: “Good afternoon, Mr. President.”
It was indeed going to be a good afternoon, for the president and the city. But even a speed-reading passenger couldn’t have done more than glimpse the lime-green color of the poster board the boy held up. Mr. Obama’s motorcade moved so fast most bystanders could barely process the mass of black and white vehicles and pick out which was probably the “it” van before it vanished.
“Good afternoon, Mr. President” is a slow-lane sort of sentiment. Wednesday, Washington came and went in a whirlwind.
A recent high school graduate from Leicester was almost sure he caught sight of the president waving. “Whoa, was that him? Did you see him? He had his hand up like this! He was in there,” he said to his companions as a clump of shiny cars sped past.
“Oh, Barack, that was so cool. If I was old enough to vote I would’ve!”
The pace dialed down to a human scale inside the DCU Center. As commencement speaker, the leader of the free world was sincere, connected and unhurried. He gave back pats and handshakes, grad by grad. He leaned in for whispered exchanges with Worcester Technical High School Principal Sheila Harrity, he freely flashed his grin and laughed, and in his address he offered credit to local leaders both long gone and up-and-coming.
Rocketry’s Robert Goddard got a mention, as did some accomplished Worcester Tech teenagers on the launch pad of life.
He had done his homework.
The president even pronounced “Worcester” properly.
It was a heady moment to have Mr. Obama here, and not just for the extraordinary young high school on Skyline Drive. Politics, opinions, and the drudgery and controversies of governing aside, it was a good — a wonderful — afternoon for everyone who knows, loves, lives in or roots for Worcester.
In our underappreciated city, unassuming Pleasant Street was suddenly President Street. Lined with American flags and freshly paved and painted in parts, and watched over by a large force of polite and professional police officers, the route linking the airport and downtown was an almost unrecognizable confusion of blocked traffic, camera-pointing pedestrians, questions, comments, patience and excitement.
After the speech, Mr. Obama’s return motorcade to the airport also took Worcester at warp speed. But he had made his imprint.
Praise lasts. Attention has meaning beyond any words said. Pride in our city permanently went up a notch.
Worcester Tech has earned its high marks, as has the community that built and supported it. Behind all the hoopla, the disruptions, and the presidential opportunism (Mr. Obama descended into partisan politics briefly when he faulted Republicans for defeating a student-loan bill), there is something quiet and calm that fueled the whole thing.
Hard work and excellence — that’s where the power really is.
We look for it and might even spot it in a speeding motorcade. But everyone — from the leaders of our great country, to youthful pupils with computers and pencils — has power when they’re being still against distraction and striving to do their best.
Worcester felt new and strange, a little, while the distinguished guest was here, and after he left. Washington looked brighter, too. Divisiveness grabs headlines but, quietly or with cheering, America’s ideals persist.
Good visits serve to recharge.
Area residents, in our own ways, should keep glows like that going. Worcester has problems; it doesn’t always look the part of a success story. But praiseworthy people and endeavors abound. Look around. Look closer. The president did, quickly. We have our own good time.