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LI students thrilled with last-minute inaugural tickets

The Suffolk legislator who ran Barack Obama's presidential campaign on Long Island managed to secure 25 tickets to Tuesday's inauguration ceremony for the students and chaperones of a Wading River special education school.

Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) was on a plane Saturday heading to Washington, D.C., when he read a Newsday story about the 17 students from the Little Flower school district and residential treatment center who planned to travel to the capital despite not having any tickets to the ceremony.

The students and eight adult chaperones were on a bus to Harrisburg, Pa., when they got word Monday that Cooper got tickets for the group, said superintendent George Grigg. "We just don't know what to say; we're so thankful," Grigg said from the bus, about 40 miles from Harrisburg, where they were to spend the night.

Kenyotta, 16, one of the students on the trip, said she can hardly believe she'll be going to Obama's inauguration. "This has to be the absolute most happiest thing that has ever happened to me," she gushed. Because many of the students are in foster care, last names were withheld.

Tuesday morning, they'll drive to Washington, where they will pick up the tickets from Cooper's hotel, Grigg said.

Cooper declined to detail how he snagged the tickets a day before the event, but said, "Luckily I've developed some pretty good contacts in the campaign in the past 21 months."

Reading the Newsday story, he said, which included details of some of the students' troubled pasts that led to them to Little Flower, inspired Cooper to see if he could get tickets. He contacted Newsday and was able to reach Grigg at home.

"It was just a very touching and heartwarming story," he said. "It was obvious how much those kids wanted to at least witness the swearing-in." Soon after Obama's election, the school made plans to go to the inauguration but couldn't get tickets to the ceremony. Because of traffic and the expected throngs, they weren't even sure how close they'd get to the festivities.

"I never expected that it would come through," Grigg said of the tickets. "Everybody is really, really happy about this."

Kenyotta said of Cooper: "I want to thank him. I think he's so awesome."

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