President Barack Obama's visit to Washington-Lee High School on Friday at times seemed more like a pep rally — or, at least, a campaign visit — rather than official White House business.
Students pushed forward and cheered as if they were awaiting a rock star to take the stage any time someone would check the mic or there was a hint of activity just out of sight.
About a half-dozen protesters stood outside before, during and after the president's speech. A woman posted at the school's main entrance pointed reporters to them for the "Republican response."
One held a sign that stated, "Where is the recovery, Mr. President?"
Inside, the students cheered at every applause line — and a few that weren't meant to be — and laughed when Obama characterized Republican opposition to extending a student loan interest rate cut set to expire July 1.
"He really made it resonate," said Gabriel Amram, a 16-year-old junior.
Junior Ford Avery, 17, said he'd begun visiting colleges recently and seeing how much tuition cost at some of them told him those colleges weren't for him. Paying $60,000 to go to school isn't what he's looking for, he said.
"Anything we can do to make that more accessible to everybody and not just the top 1 percent will really help us become competitive again," Avery said.
Avery and his friends were impressed with the president's use — or, at least, acknowledgement of — social media. Obama called on students to write on their congressman or woman's Facebook wall and to tweet using the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate.
After his speech, students and plenty of adults pushed forward to try to speak with the president or shake his hand.
"It was amazing," said Andrew A. Crider, a student at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church who was a guest of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. Crider got the opportunity to attend Friday because he helped man the phones for the Moran campaign the night before.
"My hand just barely grazed the president. For me, that was enough," Crider said. "It was great that I got to do this. I had no idea I'd have this opportunity when I woke up yesterday morning."
As for the president's message, Crider said, "That's really important. I value education a lot. It doesn't really affect me much, but I care about other people's education. It's good that the president cares about us — the future of America."
Cameras and cell phones were out in full force, and not just among the students.
"I got a hug and a kiss," said Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey.
"They're just excited about it. It makes politics real," she said. "It connects the dots. It shows you how you vote in the fall makes a difference in your life."
Moran said the president delivered "the right message."
Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, used to work for the Obama administration and saw the president Friday for the first time since winning office.
"He said he was proud of me," Lopez said.
"His message was clear and strong," he said. "It's insane that Republicans would play politics with something like this."
Each student was allowed to bring only one parent. Teachers and guests smiled as they mused about how that decision played out in various households.
Susan Chase was lucky enough to attend the speech as a guest of her daughter, a Washington-Lee senior. Her daughter will attend Virginia Tech upon graduation. The young woman cried when she was able to shake the president's hand.
"It was phenomenal," Chase said. "He's just so right on. Education is going to be the engine of growth for the foreseeable future."