Madison County

Ky. college students gear up for inauguration

An essay and $10 got Sonya Reed a seat on what could be the most exhilarating bus to leave Berea College.

Come Monday, Reed and more than 50 other Berea students will embark on a 12-hour ride to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. The group is among dozens of central Kentucky college students who will forgo classes and jobs to catch a glimpse of the moment when the man they helped elect takes the oath of office.

For D.C.-bound students, the inauguration represents the conclusion of an election season in which they played an integral part. Candidates employed technological tricks like YouTube, text messages and Twitter feeds to attract teenage and twenty-something voters, a demographic that some curmudgeons doubted would rise above its perceived apathy.

"We helped (Obama) a lot," said Justin Martin, a 19-year-old Berea freshman who will attend the inauguration. "I think he will serve our generation very well."

The students also want to witness the racial and political milestone that Obama's inauguration represents.

"It means a lot to me because it pretty much shows me where we were going as a country," Reed said. And "it shows us with African descent where we came from."

Though many of the inauguration attendees predict long lines, cold weather and bad seats, they say the discomfort will be worth being a witness to a slice of American history.

"I want to be able to tell my grandkids about this, one day," Reed said.

A couple of departments at Berea sponsored the trip to the nation's capital so students could go for a minimal fee. Those interested had to write an essay that explained why they wanted to participate.

Reed, 22, described in her essay the work she did to support Obama, which included a push to register her mother to vote for the first time.

"She's been in this mind-set that her vote doesn't count," Reed said.

She also wrote about the joy she experienced when Obama won the election.

"I hugged my closest friend and sent text messages galore because I wanted to remember this day, I wanted to remember this moment, and I wanted to remember this feeling," she wrote.

Like Reed, many of the students who will attend the inauguration promoted the Obama campaign in some fashion. Their activities ranged from phone calls to watch parties on election night.

Obama's victory capped off months of campaigning for Richard Becker, a University of Kentucky senior. Becker took a break from classes during the fall semester to be an Obama field organizer in Ohio.

Becker's heavy involvement in the campaign landed him two tickets to the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday (the tickets have been in a safe since their arrival a few weeks ago). But he is pretty sure he'll be far away from the president-elect.

Becker, a 21-year-old history major, will miss a few classes to make his sojourn to Washington. But the experience will be worth it, he said.

"No class is too important, no prior engagement is too important to turn history down," Becker said.

Joe Gallenstein, president of the UK chapter of College Democrats, doesn't have tickets to the swearing-in, but "as long as we can see him on the JumboTron, we can say we were a part of history," Gallenstein, 21, said. "That's what really matters here."

Obama was a candidate who authentically spoke the language of young people, Gallenstein said. He was young and energetic, and he discussed the issues that affect American youth. It didn't hurt that he could shoot a three, Gallenstein added.

For a generation who has witnessed a presidential impeachment, Sept. 11 and two wars in the Middle East, it is important to be part of a positive historical event, Gallenstein said.

"It's something that you can't just put into words about being able to live and see history made before your eyes," he said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader