Despite coming of age at a time of war and during one of the worst economic downturns in American history, many Long Island high school students seem resoundingly optimistic about the "audacity of hope" Barack Obama brings to the presidency.
At least five area high schools are sending busloads of students to the inauguration to be among those witnessing the historic swearing-in Jan. 20 of a man many students said will restore faith in the country. Even with projected freezing temperatures and massive crowds, the students can't wait to be at the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall where jumbo TV screens will be set up to show the inauguration.
Babylon High School, Newfield High School in Selden, Longwood High School in Middle Island, Sachem High School East in Farmingville and Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville are sending buses loaded with students, teachers and parents to Washington, D.C. Some also plan to visit museums and other national landmarks. Holy Trinity students will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
At Longwood, an essay contest was held to choose 50 11th- and 12th-grade students to attend the event, said Dan Tapia, social studies chairman.
"A lot of parents and grandparents tell them stories of where they were during certain historical moments, and now, the 9/11 generation have their own moments," Tapia said.
Many students at all five schools echoed that sentiment, saying the memory is something they can pass on to their children and grandchildren.
With a Kenyan father and a single mother from Kansas, Obama's rise to the presidency shows it's not what you are born into that counts, but how hard you work to achieve your goals, said Amanda Furcall, a senior at Newfield High School. For many, she said, it proves that "the American dream comes true."
Sachem East will take 44 students and four teachers. Students in Michael Antonucci's advanced placement social studies class have been following the campaign and election, and now are excited to see the culmination of the race.
"I was very involved," said Scott Interrante, a senior at Sachem East. "To go to any inauguration is historical, but this one, because I followed it so much, will be very rewarding."
Babylon High School will send 43 students. A social studies teacher, Chris Ryan, said they are invited to Rep. Peter King's office and will visit several memorials while there.
"The kids are fired up," Ryan said. "They made the commitment to attend before they even knew who would win the election."
More than the pomp and circumstance of the day's celebration, the students say they are looking forward to Obama's presidency - and how he handles complex issues such as the war, the economy and the country's reputation in the world. Students at Holy Trinity said they hope to catch a glimpse of Obama or his two young daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"I feel like Obama's our JFK," said senior Maggie Plaia, "and that he's changing our way of life."