When students found out that award-winning recording artist Pharrell Williams was coming to N.C. Central University on Thursday evening, it was enough to generate some excitement.
Then Hillary Clinton showed up with him.
The visit happened a couple hours before a campaign event at the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, during which Clinton was joined by Williams and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I was leaving my 5 o’clock class, and there was this guy in the Greek Bowl, and he said something about an on-campus rally going on where there was free pizza and Pharrell was gonna be there,” business and communications sophomore Myles Alston said.
Alston said some students were told by Clinton staffers that day that the plan was for students to meet with Williams at the library, and then march to the cafeteria and on to the School of Law. But Alston and others weren’t aware of Clinton’s plans to accompany Williams, he said.
He was at the law building looking for the crowds around 6 p.m. when he got a call from a friend who said that people were lined up in front of the cafeteria. He immediately headed in that direction.
“Pharrell is one of my two idols,” Alston said. “If you tell me there is a chance I can meet my idol on-campus, you know, I’m definitely gonna be there.”
When Alston got to the cafeteria, he saw two NCCU Police cars pull up. That’s when he figured Williams had arrived.
“Then I saw a Bentley behind it, and Secretary Clinton came out, and then Pharrell came out of the Bentley. And I was like ‘whoa,’” he said. “I had no clue. That was a shock. Like, when she got out of the car, I was just dumbfounded.”
According to reports, about 100 students had already gathered at the cafeteria before the pair arrived. By the end of the visit, the crowd had grown to several hundred.
“It was straight pandemonium,” Alston said. “Everybody lost their minds.”
Alston said he was able to weave his way through the crowd, getting close enough to shake hands with Clinton and Williams. He was honored to meet both of them, but the memory of his encounter with Williams will stick with him forever, he said.
“Just the fact that he reached out and shook my hand … I was in awe,” Alston said.
When the visit was over, Clinton and Williams walked down the steps on the side of the cafeteria, where their motorcade picked them up on a side street.
NCCU is no stranger to celebrity visits. The verdant green welcomed TV personality Terrence J earlier this year and hosted NBA legend Grant Hill and Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine for a campaign event last month. President Obama, too, appeared on campus during the 2008 campaign.
But Alston, who frequently meets celebrity’s on-campus thanks to his position with the Student Activities Board, said this was the most memorable visit he’s experienced.
“It’s never been a real big thing for me to meet celebrities or politicians. I don’t really pay too much mind to it,” he said. “But just the fact that I got to meet somebody who I hold in such high esteem meant the world to me. That was the first time I can honestly say I freaked out over a celebrity.”