Youths excited about historic moment
Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:24 p.m.
WASHINGTON - To many of his supporters, the appeal of President-elect 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 Marion 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 classes.
The thoughts expressed by these youths 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 black president.
"We have a new president that's out of the norm for our country. It shows a big step forward," said Mary Joyce Williams, a student at Vanguard High School in Ocala who traveled to D.C. with her mother and father, Ocala Police Chief Sam Williams.
Williams, 17, said she hopes Obama's administration will turn the economy around by 2013, the year she expects she will enter graduate school.
As the Spellman College-bound senior stood in the halls outside the offices of U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, Monday afternoon during a reception and inaugural ticket-distribution event hosted by the congressman, she described what it was like to join millions of others for the inauguration.
"When you're here (in D.C.), you're in the midst of it and you get energy from other people. It's really nice I had this opportunity," she said.
Hundreds of people filed through the doors of the Rayburn House Building Monday to pick up tickets that will allow them onto the lawn of the West side of the U.S. Capitol, where today 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 Alachua and Marion counties who were able to secure inaugural tickets through his office.
"It's created a strong sense of euphoria," Stearns said.
"I used to have a much more quiet reception," he joked, waving at the buzz of activity surrounding his office.
David Luke, a sophomore at West Port High School in Ocala, attended the reception with his mother, Joy Gallmon, and sister, Janis, a student at Belleview Middle School. The 15-year-old said the message handed down by the president-elect has inspired him and his friends to talk more about their plans for college.
"It opens new doors," he said of the significance of the moment, adding he looks most forward to Obama "saying the 39 words" that will officially swear him into office. "It says you can do anything you want to do."
Jasmine Henry, a seventh-grader at Howard Middle School, spent the morning with her mother, Lori, participating in a day of community service to aid military families. Monday was officially declared "National Day of Service" by the Obama administration.
Toting a bright red bag, the curly-haired 12-year-old said she was still processing the occasion.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, it's so big to grasp," she said.
"I bet a week from now, I'll think, 'Oh my gosh, I was at Barack Obama's inauguration,' " she added.
Karen Reed, 57, the director of the AT&T call center in Ocala, brought her grandkids, Shareika Morgan, 18, and Thomas Reed, 15, to the nation's capital in order to witness history.
Reed volunteered for Obama during the campaign and said her grandchildren, students at Forest High School in Ocala, helped out by placing a call or two. "They know something big is happening," she said.
As they sat on a couple of chairs outside Stearns' office, the two teens just grinned and nodded.
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