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Columbia Spectator Staff

A happy surprise awaited 100 students when they awoke Tuesday morning: a coveted seat in Thursday's ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum in Lerner Hall.

They were the winners of a University-organized lottery held over the weekend to determine which students could attend the event, which will feature Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. The candidates will discuss public service in the nonpartisan forum scheduled for Sept. 11, a day the candidates had agreed to tone down political campaigning.

Excepting the presidential debates, it will be a rare opportunity to see the candidates on the same stage. The forum will be broadcast nationally on CNN, and Columbia television station CTV will stream the summit live.

Of the 1,000 people in the Lerner audience Thursday, most will be family members of Sept. 11 victims, military veterans and political and cultural leaders, according to ServiceNation's Web site.

The University announced further details Thursday about the logistics of the event. Access to Lerner Hall will be restricted to Columbia ID holders and 114th Street will be closed all day. The Broadway entrance to Lerner will be closed starting at 2 p.m., as well as the entire first floor of the building and the fourth floor corridor near Ferris Booth. After 5 p.m. access to the entire campus will be restricted to ID holders.

The 7 p.m. ServiceNation event will be simulcast on CTV and on a large TV screen on Low Plaza.

But the hottest seats on campus will be inside Roone Arledge Auditorium. Hundreds of students entered the lottery for tickets, the deadline of which was extended twice when dozens of students reported difficulties accessing the entry page. The site was eventually moved to a higher-capacity server.

Over 15,000 students entered the lottery, according to Monica Quaintance, CC '10 and a University senator, who was one of two students selected to oversee the lottery and ensure it was conducted fairly. The students' names and University IDs were entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and organized alphabetically by UNI.

Each student was assigned a number in that order. Excel then generated 300 random numbers. The students corresponding to the first 100 numbers were admitted to the event, and the remaining 200 were put on a waitlist.

Winners were notified by e-mail Tuesday morning and told to claim their tickets in Lerner Tuesday afternoon or this morning. Tickets are non-transferrable, meaning winners cannot give their ticket to a friend.

If winners cannot attend or more space becomes available, additional students will be selected from the waitlist.

"When I first got the e-mail, I was just completely shocked and amazed and overjoyed," Zach Brill, CC '12, said. "It still hasn't really hit me yet."

"I'm pretty excited. I've almost never won any lottery in my life," Journalism School graduate student Amir Bibawy said, laughing.

Upon claiming their tickets, winners were advised to arrive at the event as early as possible. The doors will open at 4:30 p.m., but attendees were encouraged to arrive at 4:00—three hours in advance of the 7 p.m. start time for the forum.

But a ticket may not guarantee a seat at the event, according to those staffing the ticket claim table. The number of seats available has not been finalized, and if more tickets were awarded than there are seats, admission will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

"We can't guarantee that [admission]—that's why we recommend you arrive as early as possible," one staffer told students. "We're pretty confident, but the ticket is not a guarantee of a seat."

For security reasons, no bags, purses, computers, cameras, or cell phones will be allowed into the auditorium. These rules will be "strictly enforced," according to those staffing the ticket claim table.

maggie.astor@columbiaspectator.com

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