Stunned students huddled near televisions as tears welled up in their eyes. Others stood captivated by the humbling news.
Word of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone’s tragic plane crash spread quickly around campus early Friday afternoon. Only 11 days before the 2002 election, Wellstone’s attempt at a third term in Washington ended tragically in a plane crash in Eveleth, Minn.
“Even though I don’t like Paul Wellstone’s political views, I respect him as a person, and how he was very passionate. I think he did his best, and I think he always did what he thought was right,” said Shannon Fiecke, a journalism senior.
Seated comfortably in class, advertising junior Alison Link and her class began watching television to study political ads that occupy commercials during the election years. Ironically, no commercials would be seen. Instead, they watched saddened network anchors repeating the unfortunate news.
“I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” Link said. “I think everyone was watching it, and everything got all quiet.”
“He seemed like a person who used his world views to accomplish his goals and what he voted for. He didn’t seem like a person who would be extremely swayed by outside interests, but a person of a lot of integrity,” said global studies and mass communication student Gina Hunziker.
Hunziker said she e-mailed Wellstone last week regarding his views about the possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although she was unsure whether to expect any response, Wellstone surprised the University student by replying to her e-mail in length and within a few days.
“I was just really surprised to see it,” Hunziker said. “I think it’s something that makes him unique. I generally distrust politicians, and I wouldn’t expect that from anyone.”
“I cried,” she said.
Although still in shock at the senator’s passing, several students questioned who would fill Wellstone’s seat in the Senate for the remainder of the year. Other students wondered how the upcoming election would play out.
Caught in the middle of a hotly-debated race against former St. Paul mayor Republican Norm Coleman, potential voters varied on how the tragedy would affect their vote.
“He was definitely a different sort of politician,” chemical engineering sophomore Jayd Mehra said. “But I think Norm Coleman is going to win because the Democrats are going to be scrambling for someone else.”
Whether students liked or disliked Wellstone’s politics, news of the crash reminded them how quickly vibrant lives can end.
“It’s sad how it shows you that if he can die, anyone can die, and it teaches you how precious life is,” Fiecke said.