Alachua County residents excited to witness history

Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.

Washington, D.C. To many of his supporters, the appeal of Barack Obama has always been as much about his charisma and energy as it has been about his ability to reach across racial, geographic and generational lines.

The enthusiasm he stirred among the electorate during his campaign spread to scores of young, first-time voters and also to those not quite old enough to vote, but aware of the candidate's inspiring message of hope for America's youth.

Here in Washington, D.C., dozens of residents from Alachua County in town for Obama's inauguration brought their children or grandchildren along for the journey, taking advantage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday on Monday to justify a day or two of missed class.

The thoughts expressed by these youth reflect not just excitement in traveling to the nation's capital, but also a keen sense of the significance of being able to witness in person the swearing-in of the first African American person to be elected president.

"Just to be a part of history is amazing," said Tiffany Green, a University of Florida student. "Even before [Obama] got elected, we said we would come [to D.C.]."

The 21-year-old youth and community science major is in town with her parents, sister and members of her extended family for the event.

Fellow Gainesville residents Ray and Fay McKnight, who attended a reception and inaugural ticket-distribution event hosted by Congressman Cliff Stearns' (R-Ocala) in his Washington, D.C. office Monday afternoon, began hunting for plane tickets to D.C. the night election results came back.

"My wife said, 'Honey, don't you think it's a little early?" And I said 'no,'" said Ray McKnight, an insurance agency manager.

Hundreds of people filed through the doors of the Rayburn House Office Building Monday to pick up tickets that will allow them onto the lawn of the West side of the U.S. Capitol, where Tuesday at noon, Obama will be sworn in as 44th president of the United States.

Stearns held a casual reception with refreshments and soft drinks during the day to greet the 198 constituents from Marion and Alachua counties who were able to secure inaugural tickets through his office.

"It's created a strong sense of euphoria," Stearns said in his office of the inauguration. "I used to have a much more quiet reception," he joked, waving at the buzz of activity surrounding his office.

Cammeron Smith, Jr., 11, a student at Williston Middle School waiting with his sister, father and cousin outside the congressman's office for last-minute inaugural tickets, said he's excited about the precedent Obama sets.

"I feel great about the first black president, [the possibility of] lowering taxes for middle-class people and pulling people out of Iraq," he said. "The [troops'] families probably feel lonely."

"He wouldn't be elected president if he hadn't spent time with the community and all of that. All things are possible," he added.

By nighttime, a staffer with Stearns' office emerged from the closed doors of the office and announced she had two tickets available for the group.

Suevon Lee can be reached at 867-4065 or

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