A precedent just might have been set just five days before the 2012 presidential election, one that does not involve either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
In this case, the trailblazers were a group of about 10 students who literally camped out in front of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum for the possibility of winning seats at the head dinner table of former Utah Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman who was booked as an Ath speaker on November 1st.
As far as anyone can determine, it's the first time students have camped out (some in tents) just for the chance at being waitlisted for a spot at an Ath table. There is some good-natured dispute as to whether other impromptu Ath "slumber parties" have been held in conjunction with other speakers (Condelezza Rice and Mr. Romney's visits to the Ath spring to mind).
"I've always heard of people considering camping out for major speakers, but never actually doing so," says Christian Neumeister '15, a dual major in PPE/Middle Eastern Studies and one of the campers. "I honestly wasn't surprised to see a tent, but I certainly was when I learned they had crammed 5 people into the 2-sleeper."
In a spirit of full disclosure, Neumeister admits that he didn't actually camp out the entire night. "I turned up at about 4:45 a.m., and got first on the waitlist for my efforts. Five students (most or all of them seniors) set up a tent at roughly 10:00 p.m. the night before, and I was told people turned up at various times during the night (as early as 11:00 pm) and left when they discovered they'd only be on the waitlist."
One of those intrepid seniors who did camp out is Sally "Macie" Leach '13, a Government major with a Leadership sequence. "Overall, it was a great bonding experience and increased the excitement of sitting at the head table knowing that we had camped out over night to get those spots," she says.
Leach says that she had signed up for the dinner but wasn't aware that the night of the camp out was also the night to sign up for the head table.
"A few of my friends in the tent texted me that there was one more spot and that I should come be the last one," she says. "When I arrived I wasn't exactly sure that I really wanted to spend the night on concrete but as I saw how excited all of my friends were I decided to stay the night in the tent and am glad I did. It is the first time I have ever camped out to see anyone speak and I would do it again!"
According to Leach, all of the campers in her tent have lived in Washington D.C. (3 of them served in the Washington Program together). "It made it especially interesting since first semester last year I was writing memos on Jon Huntsman as a candidate and watching the race get started," Leach says.
Although camping out for a golden ticket didn't guarantee the recipients of being able to ask Huntsman a question, Clare Riva '13, a Philosophy major with an Ethics sequence, was one of the lucky ones.
"I got to ask him a couple questions," she says. "He was very personably and friendly, and it was one of the best head tables I have ever sat at. He made us feel at ease, and it felt much more like a conversation than an interrogation of the question-and-answer period. I did get to pick his brain about some of the flaws of our current primary system. I also got to ask him about his purple tie-- something that some of us had been wondering about all day! However, he didn't claim to have worn it for any political symbolism."
Leach says that Huntsman fielded some questions that were asked generically, as "a table."
"We spoke as a table about his run for president, how he decided to run, his daughters and their twitter account, where each of us was from and what we wanted to do in the future and the media's effect on his campaign," she says. "And we actually told him that we camped out and he was impressed with our dedication!"
Although Governor Huntsman might not wield the same drawing capacity as, say, the Rolling Stones or even Justin Bieber, he was just the ticket for the capacity Ath crowd.
"Jon Huntsman is certainly a bigger draw than the Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber, at least to me," Riva says. "I can't speak for the other students who were out there, but ever since I first started learning about Jon Huntsman, I have greatly admired his personal integrity and his approach to politics. He's definitely one of my heroes, and I can't really think of anyone else that I would want to see at the Ath more."
Leach says that dinner with Huntsman made camping for a few hours "totally worth it!"
"It was pretty funny because people kept showing up throughout the night at various hours trying to get a seat and some arrived at 8:00 a.m. and were shocked to see a tent outside which was pretty great! Campus safety at one point even stopped by and asked what we were doing."