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Student’s advocacy lands him next to Obama at White House speech

Senior Sam Nelson, a leader of GW’s Progressive Student Union, was glad to see President Barack Obama advocate for lower interest rates on student loans Friday at the White House.

Senior Sam Nelson, back left, stood behind President Barack Obama during a White House press conference on student loans, earning screen time on national networks including MSNBC and PBS. Photo courtesy PBS NewsHour

But Nelson, who has rallied around student debt issues for years, was also center stage for the speech, meeting with the president beforehand and standing behind Obama as he spoke to national television cameras.

Nelson, who has already racked up $42,000 in debt, described the president as “very down to earth and relaxed” and said Obama shook hands with each student and asked where they were from and what college they attended.

Nelson got to the White House stage with a knack for advocacy. After protesting outside the headquarters of the student loan giant Sallie Mae last year – demanding an audience before shareholders and a meeting with the company’s CEO – the activists joined shareholders at their meeting on Thursday.

And after voicing their concerns to shareholders, Sallie Mae’s newly elected CEO Jack Remondi agreed to meet with the group of activists, and Nelson said he will be a part of the delegation.

“You feel the connection when you see that the work we do in organizing really has far reaching ramifications. And that’s a good feeling,” Nelson said.

With interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford student loans set to double in July, the president urged Congress to keep the lending rate at a locked-in 3.4 percent. He also railed against a House of Representatives bill that would allow rates on new subsidized Stafford loans to float.

And, in the beginning of his remarks, he said he enjoyed meeting with students.

“One of my favorite things about this job is that I get to spend some time with remarkable young people from all across the country,” Obama said. “It inspires me.”

In the meeting before the press conference, Obama told the students to keep up their activism and continue to put pressure on Congress, Nelson said.

“[The interest rates] didn’t double last year because students got out and we mobilized to stop it,” Nelson said. “We know about these problems, we know what they can do to people and families and we want this to end, this petty bickering over interest rates.

This post was updated May 31, 2013 at 7:59 p.m. to reflect the following:

Correction appended

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Sam Nelson was the head of GW’s Progressive Student Union. In fact, he is on the coordinating committee. We regret this error.

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