PRINCESS ANNE -- Morning classes were all but canceled yesterday at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore as Michelle Obama arrived at the rural campus to stump for her husband's presidential campaign.
Students and faculty members, who had scrambled for seats at the university's performance hall for the noontime speech, greeted Obama with a standing ovation.
Obama, speaking for nearly an hour without notes, charmed the crowd of about 1,200 students and professors who say Barack Obama's bid for the Democratic nomination has stirred the historically black campus like nothing in memory.
"Having his wife here was very exciting, the way things have been growing on campus about Barack," said Jelila Jones, a senior. "When you have a lady as inspirational as that, it left an impression on all of us."
Michelle Obama's Eastern Shore appearance was the first of two in Maryland in advance of today's primary. Later yesterday, a year to the day after her husband declared his candidacy, she spoke to more than 900 people at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda.
At UMES, Carolyn Shackleford, a math and computer teacher there for 15 years, said she has never seen students so focused, especially since most could not have imagined Barack Obama's race against Sen. Hillary Clinton even a few months ago.
"The truth is, we let the students go," Shackleford said. "This is moment they are going to remember forever."
Michelle Obama, standing beneath a huge "Change" banner, called the grueling presidential primary campaign a journey of faith, sacrifice and dedication.
"We need leadership to bring us together, not pull us apart."
Speaking fondly of her childhood, Obama praised her father, who was a Chicago city employee while her mother worked in the home, a choice she said most blue-collar families cannot afford now.
Careful not to name Clinton or Republican adversaries, Obama criticized the Iraq war and President Bush's No Child Left Behind program, an initiative she said is "sucking the life out of public schools."
"In 2008, all children should be able to imagine any future for themselves," Obama said. "My parents were able to send two children to Princeton. ... I wouldn't be here without those neighborhood schools we had right around the corner."
Many students called Obama's appearance the high point in months of political activity on campus. Most said Barack Obama leads Clinton by a wide margin at UMES, where black enrollment is about 77 percent.
"Lots of us have seen the debates on big screens in the auditorium, but having her here in person is so much better," said Devin Robertson, a 19-year-old sophomore from Aberdeen. "The students have just taken to Barack. Everywhere, all you hear is 'Barack, Barack, Barack.'"
Fran Weaver and four of her friends, all retired and members of a Unitarian congregation in Salisbury, drove to UMES, about 15 miles, to hear Obama. On Sunday, the group had joined 500 or more Democrats for a rally in Cambridge.
"I wanted to hear the next first lady of the United States," Weaver said. "We didn't want to miss that chance so close to home."
In Montgomery County later yesterday, 900 people packed the auditorium at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to hear Michelle Obama, with hundreds more listening in on loudspeakers outside.
She said her husband's campaign has surged because "people are hopeful again."
"It's not based on race or gender or political party," the Harvard-educated attorney told the cheering crowd.
"What we've been seeing all over this country," she said, "is something that folks haven't seen in a long time. Millions of people turning out and coming together behind a single, common idea: That we can be united around something positive. That we're ready for change, and we're ready to move this country in a different direction."
Obama was introduced by the teenage daughter of Rep. Chris Van Hollen. As chairman of the House Democrats' campaign operation, Van Hollen has remained neutral in the presidential contest, but his daughter Anna, said she "could not be more excited" to cast her first presidential vote for Obama.
Chris Guy reported from Princess Anne. Sun Washington reporter Matthew Hay Brown reported from Bethesda.