I was at Columbia the same time that Barack Obama was there-- he was a senior when I was a freshman-- and although I never met him, I would guess that we have a formative experience in common: Saul Mendlovitz's "Approaches To A Just World Order" class.
Some upperclassmen pals whom I sang with clued me into this class, which had a cult following on campus. It was a huge lecture course out of the Political Science department, but people from all majors took it-- and that's how Professor Mendlovitz wanted it. The class was basically about solving great problems on a global scale, formulating optimal world governance-- in other words, Saving The World. Mendlovitz openly described his class as indoctrination, and he often repeated this point: You young people, sitting in this room, are the leaders of tomorrow. You will inherit the world some day, and you will be able to change it and make it better. So aim high-- agree that this is what you want to do, know that you can, conspire to make it happen, and stay true to your vision.
It was an absolute thrill for me to hear this message, and it has stayed with me ever since. Star professor Mendlovitz, on 5-year loan from the University of Chicago, was also a great lecturer. He combined tall, grey gravitas with idealistic zeal and a great sense of humor. He obviously loved being around young people.
The poli sci majors who dug deeper became involved with the World Order Models Project, co-founded by Mendlovitz and Princeton professor Richard Falk. I remember looking through the WOMP books and seeing things like diagrams of what the layout and seating scheme should be for a world governance chamber-- like the UN's General Assembly chamber, but presumably better. Things like this seemed a little wanky, but they didn't put me off from the underlying ideals.
Around the same time, I was also immersing myself in the ideas of Fundamentalist zinester Jack Chick (and others) who viewed world government as the great plot of the Anti-Christ, signaling the End Times. But this didn't seem like a good thing to bring up in class.
Anyway, it was a wonderful, inspiring class. I have not lost the hope that it instilled in me, and listening to Obama's words has several times made me think, "Wow-- he must have taken Mendlovitz, too! Mendlovitz was right!"