Winning the debate lottery

students celebrate at ticket lottery

Washington University students celebrate during the debate ticket lottery at Whitaker Hall Oct. 9. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Students waiting in Whitaker Hall erupted into cheers and applause when they found out that nearly all of them would be able to watch the second presidential debate live at the university’s Athletic Complex. In all, the university was able to give out 352 debate tickets to students.

More than 10,230 students — a new record — entered the university’s lottery for a chance to sit inside the debate hall. The top 500 students were alerted by email and told to come to Whitaker Hall on the day of the debate — when the university was scheduled to find out from the Commission on Presidential Debates how many tickets it would receive. Traditionally, all tickets are given to students.

As it happened, all the students in Whitaker were lucky, but none so lucky as Molly Shepherd, who was the first in the lottery. “It’s pretty crazy,” said the sophomore who is majoring in engineering, “but I was telling my friends someone had to be first.”

Stephanie Kurtzman, who organizes the lottery and the distribution of tickets, handed Shepherd her ticket first. Then Kurtzman announced that everyone through No. 315 would be getting tickets. One excited student compared it to an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show where she gives away her favorite things. “It’s like, ‘You get a ticket and you get a ticket!’”

Once students who had No. 315 or less had boarded shuttle buses to the Athletic Complex, Kurtzman counted how many tickets she had left, due to no-shows. The university also acquired several last-minute tickets for waiting students. All told, though only 352 tickets were distributed, student No. 522 in the lottery was able to get a ticket because some students with earlier numbers didn’t show up.

However, the student body was well aware of the importance of what was happening on campus. Adeel Shaikh, a freshman from Pakistan, who was No. 5 in the lottery, remarked about the impact the debate is having. “With the debate coming here, everyone has made an effort to get involved,” Shaikh said, “which is important for college students.”