Unlike the torrential downpours that occurred when Belmont hosted the 2008 Town Hall Presidential Debate, October 22, 2020 dawned with a bright blue sky, comfortable fall temperatures and not a drop of rain in sight. While the pleasant weather was a nice backdrop, all attention was focused on the room where it was about to happen… the Curb Event Center, where President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would meet on stage for the final time to make their pitch to America.

saying yes to opportunity

From the early morning hours, a lively energy emanated from every corner of campus as media members took their spots on lawns by the Bell Tower and the Curb Event Center to do live reporting. More than 300 Belmont students volunteered for the Debate, and they could be seen dashing about Oct. 22, running scripts from production trailers to on-air sets, delivering boxed meals, screening temperatures of guests and even vacuuming the Debate Hall itself.

Three students—Adreanna Parlette, Eric Reid and Ryan Sheldon—volunteered for unique roles, serving as stand-ins for the candidates and moderator to give the TV production crew a practice run for lighting and camera positions. Junior international business major Danny deForest, who held a variety of roles including as an usher in the Debate Hall, said, “A big takeaway that I had from this debate is when opportunities come, pounce on them and then do everything you’re asked to do and more. I had a ‘say yes’ mentality all week… I knew that the more I put in, the more I got out of it. As a result, hosting this debate was such a rewarding experience that I’ll cherish for my entire life.”

For freshman Mia Ditta, a double major in broadcast journalism and political science, this experience put her in the center of where she hopes her career will take her. “I really loved working alongside FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS. It was such an amazing experience considering I am working towards becoming a broadcast journalist… I learned that anything is possible if I put my mind to it.”

Danny deForest

Three students served as stand-ins for the candidates and moderator to assist the debate production team with a dress rehearsal.

Mia Ditta

Seeing the Main Event

“Seeing the President’s motorcade come down Wedgewood Avenue is what really shocked me into the reality that Belmont was about to house the two most important people in the world!”

Those words, from sophomore politics and public law major Keidron Turner, were echoed time and again from students, faculty and staff alike, as President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrived that afternoon in The Beast accompanied by a parade of Secret Service, police, media and EMT vehicles. Following a quick walk thru, they departed campus just in time for the arrival of former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden with similar pomp and circumstance.

Those scenes were replayed as darkness set in over campus and the candidates arrived for the main event, the final presidential debate of the 2020 election. Moderated by NBC News’ Kristen Welker, the 90-minute debate touched on a number of topics, ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic and race issues in America to national security and the leadership qualities needed for the
executive office.

Approximately 200 attendees were allowed in the venue, and the audience consisted primarily of campaign invitees, media, staff and students. Two special guests included 7th grader Satchel Strout, who aspires to be president one day, and Dr. Marieta Velikova, an associate professor of economics in Belmont’s Massey College of Business. Velikova, originally from western Siberia, became a U.S. citizen this year and was able to vote in her first U.S. election.

Kristen Welker of NBC News

Dr. Marieta Velikova