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Meet the grandma who helped land President Obama as Rutgers commencement speaker

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HIGHLANDS, N.J. — A crowd of 10,000 graduates gave President Obama a standing ovation at the Rutgers University commencement ceremony this weekend. One person graduates can thank for helping to get him there has been out of school for decades.

Dianne Totten, 70, of Highlands, N.J. is the grandmother of the student body president, Matthew Panconi. When he told her that the class of 2016 wanted Obama to speak at their commencement, she set out to help.

“I just sent an e-mail directly to the WhiteHouse.gov site and nothing happened. Then I thought, I should follow this up,” Totten wrote three e-mails to President Obama, but never got a response. That is, until graduation day.

“I even got three notes from the grandmother of your student body president, and I have to say that really sealed the deal,” said President Obama to the crowd.

“Excitement, joy. I mean, it was just unbelievable,” she said through a smile.

President Obama was the first sitting president to deliver a commencement address at Rutgers in the university’s 250 year history.

Students, New Jersey’s Congressional delegation, Rutgers’ President and Board of Governors all lobbied for Obama to give the graduation speech. It was a 3-year-campaign, which Totten's grandson helped to lead.

"Matthew had done something really important,” she said, "He was down in Washington and he had someone deliver the e-mail that Matthew had been sending and it got to the President."

The President gave her grandson a hug before walking off the stage.

Totten says her granddaughter is next in line for graduation. She has three years before that commencement at a Catholic University.

In the meantime, Totten plans to write to the Pope.

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