Despite having differing political beliefs, Franklin County High School students say attending a speech by former President Clinton was an important educational experience.
More than 1,500 from Franklin County and Western Hills high schools attended the rally where Clinton was campaigning on behalf of his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The choirs and bands from both schools also performed and an estimated 4,000 attended.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see and hear a former president in Frankfort," said Chloe Bates, president of the Franklin County High School Young Democrats club.
Bates, a junior, said Clinton is an excellent speaker. "He really got the crowd going," she said.
Clinton discussed a number of issues, including the rising cost of higher education, global warming, the recession and health care. He talked about his wife's plan to create an energy fund to promote more fuel-efficient cars and clean-coal technology.
Bates said her classmates were also concerned about rising college tuition and global warming.
"I think global warming is a really big issue," Bates said. "I liked hearing what Hillary would do to put that technology on the fast track so it can be implemented in society."
The rally inspired discussion among her classmates and Bates said it might make some of them more likely to vote in the future.
"Sometimes politics seems like something distant done by men smoking pipes in back rooms," she said. "Hearing (Clinton) talk about it in person is really different."
Patrick Smith is a history teacher at Franklin County and the staff adviser to the Young Democrats. The club has about 20 active members and he said the group is split between Clinton and her rival, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
"I think it was a good idea to take them," Smith said.
Although he's a member of the Young Republicans at Franklin County High School, junior Aaron Mayes said it was good to hear the former president speak.
"It's important for people to be allowed to make up their own minds and see what ideals the parties stand for," he said.
Although he disagreed on a number of issues, Mayes said the speech was a good opportunity for students to learn about the candidates and the issues.
"It allowed people to see what the Democrats are trying to say and what their battle cries will be," he said.
Laura Freire teaches algebra and is the Young Republicans staff adviser. She said the students were respectful of Clinton but that she wanted a chance to include a more balanced perspective.
"Still, it's good for the students to see democracy in action," Frerie said.
James Klotter, professor of history at Georgetown College and state historian, said Clinton's sweep through Kentucky was unusual. Clinton spoke in Paris, Maysville and Morehead as well.
"For Kentucky to be in the spotlight during the primary is highly unusual," Klotter said.
Prior to the 1970s most of the nominees were picked at the convention and primaries and caucuses were rare, Klotter said. Since primaries have become more important, most candidates have spent their time and money in larger battleground states, he said.
"It's historically unusual to have a primary of this significance in Kentucky," he said.
Franklin County Schools Communications Coordinator Wayne Dominick said only about 170 students did not attend the rally and spent the time either reading or doing homework. He said most classes picked up their normal schedules after lunch and might rearrange their schedule later this week.
"Even if they had to miss a few classes, I think it was worth it," Dominick said. "These kids are going to be voting soon and they need to see what the process is like, how it works, what it's all about, whether they are for them or against them. If any other candidates were to have a similar type thing, we would make it available."
Students were required to bring a signed permission slip in order to attend, and Dominick said students were not rewarded if they went to the rally.
Raye Hurley, choir director for FCHS, said she was excited the students had the opportunity to see a former president.
"Ironically, I sang the "National Anthem' for President Clinton when he visited Appalachia. I'm a native of Hazard and was a senior at the time. He's a great speaker."
Sophomore Katie Rush, an FCHS choir member, was looking forward to listening to Clinton. "I think he was a pretty good president, from what I know. I was pretty young at the time, of course," she said.
Although she's too young to vote and admires Hillary Clinton, she said Obama is her favorite candidate. "I think part of that is the age thing. His campaign really appeals to young people. I'd like to see either of them in office."
Trevor Perry, a senior FCHS choir member wearing a tuxedo, said he was not excited about seeing Clinton. "I'm a Republican. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be."
Augie Phillips, a freshman saxophone player in the WHHS band, said the rally was interesting.
"He impressed me, but I don't like the idea of political parties," Phillips said. "I think it's an unnecessary way to divide our nation."
He said he liked Clinton's comments about environmental issues. "I take an interest in that. I would like to work in that field."
Several local politicians also attended, including Franklin County Judge-Executive Ted Collins, Frankfort Mayor Bill May, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, and state Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort.
Collins said he was pleased with the turnout, especially on such short notice.
Rollins said he thinks it's time for the country to elect its first female president.
"It's time for Democrats to shine," he said.
Carroll said he's known the Clintons since he was governor of Kentucky in 1974. He said the former first lady will end the war in Iraq and Clinton has pledged to start withdrawing troops 60 days after she takes office.
"We've lost 4,000 troops but Hillary will bring our men home," Carroll said.
Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, attended the rally but did not speak on behalf of Clinton. He said he'll remain neutral in the race and thinks both Clinton and Obama are good candidates.
"I'll support the party's nominee," Graham said.
Staff Writer Charlie Pearl also contributed to this story.