President Barack Obama seemed to strike all the right notes Friday at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. when he delivered a speech designed to put pressure on Congress to keep student loan interest rates down.
This week Georgetown University student president Clara Gustafson signed a letter with some 200 other student body presidents, calling on Congress to address student loan debt and prevent increased rates on Stafford loans.
"I decided to sign on as the Georgetown University undergraduate student body president because it is an issue that is relevant to all students and Georgetown students are not excluded from that" said Gustafson in an email.
The president spoke before an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 junior and senior high school students, parents, faculty and local elected officials.
Obama spoke briefly about the economy in general before specifically talking about college affordability.
On July 1, a student loan interest rate cut will expire — effectively doubling rates overnight — unless Congress acts, Obama said.
He was answered with resounding "boos."
"That's like a $1,000 tax hike for more than 7 million students around the country," Obama said.
"You guys shouldn't have to pay an extra $1,000 because Congress can't get its act together."
Gustafson said among Georgetown undergraduate students 43 percent "rely on subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans to pay for tuition."
House Republicans will only prevent rates from doubling if they can cut things like preventative health care for women, the president said, earning a second round of "boos." The country shouldn't have to choose between the two, the president said, again answered with cheering.
The president had to pause multiple times for applause or, in some cases, laughter, as he made the case that keeping higher education affordable was directly tied to rebuilding the economy.
Obama told his own story of struggling with student loan debt, and said he and the first lady just finished paying off their student loans about eight years ago. The two entered the world of work with a "truckload" of student debt, loans they were still paying off when they were starting to save up for their children's education.
"We got married. And together we got poor," he said.
But, he added, the couple was only able to get where they were thanks to scholarships and student loans.
"This country gave us a chance at a good education. This country has always made the commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who is willing to work for it. That's the kind of investment in our own people that helps us lead the world," he said.
Americans now owe more on student loans than they do on credit cards, he said.
"I don't want you to start off life saddled with debt," the president said to raucous applause. "Because if you start off that way, it means a lot of really tough choices — like waiting longer to buy a house or start a family."
The president called on students to send a message to Congress: "Tell them, 'Don't double my rates.' "
Obama told the young men and women to call, email, post on Facebook and tweet using the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate to get the message across.
"I want you guys to realize that your voice makes a difference. Your voice matters," he said.
"I know sometimes it seems like it doesn't. But members of Congress — they listen. And if they start hearing from a lot of folks, sometimes it changes their mind. Sometimes it changes their vote."
Though billed by the White House as official business the president seemed to connect with his audience in a way that was reminiscent of his 2008 campaign. Obama will formally kick off his reelection bid this weekend with events in Richmond and Columbus, Ohio.