Generation Next

One Tallahassee teen follows Barack Obama’s historic path to the presidencyFrom My House to the White HouseLocal Teen Elizabeth Landers Chronicles Obama’s Odyssey

Liz and Wheeler, dream big dreams,” was Barack Obama’s message to my brother and me. My family’s tradition is for any friend who comes to our house to take a Sharpie and sign a designated wall in our basement playroom. Then-candidate Obama came to my house for a fundraiser in August 2007, gamely signed the wall, and spoke to a gathering of supporters and others about why he was optimistic about his (then) improbable candidacy. And so, my interest in the 2008 presidential election took off. 

My first big test came in the frozen fields of Iowa for the January primaries. I traipsed across barren, snow-covered cornfields to watch Obama, Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton campaign in the true grassroots of American politics. I got face-time with Paul, witnessed Richardson campaign sans shoes in an Iowa living room and celebrated Obama’s victory with actress Scarlett Johansson.

As the weather warmed, excitement rose for the Democratic National Convention being held in the Mile-High City of Denver in August. Writers, documentary producers, talking heads, pundits, photographers, celebs, wannabes and bloggers were among the upwards of 100,000 people gathered for the convention. Every night, downtown Denver came alive with concerts by John Legend, Death Cab for Cutie and Fall Out Boy, while private parties hosted by Politico, GQ and Google had people spilling onto the streets until 4 a.m.

While security was virtually non-existent in Iowa, Denver resembled a small military base, but nothing could dampen the passion felt at Invesco Field the night of Obama’s acceptance speech.

And then, to finish the journey started 17 months earlier, I was in Washington, D.C., for this history-making inauguration. The free Sunday night concert on the Mall had “crush conditions,” meaning so many people were present that, even standing up, you were crushed. At the Florida Ball in the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Monday night, visiting Tallahasseans were shivering from the temperatures peaking in the teens. It was quite a sight, but commonplace, to see women in floor-length gowns and men in their tuxedos riding on the Metro.

The day of the inauguration could have been chaotic because of the millions of people, but order prevailed and the streets retained an incredibly enthusiastic vibe.

The entire length of the Mall erupted in cheers when Obama came out and addressed the country, for the first time, as its president. Tears flowed, cameras snapped every second and flags waved. Despite the sheer numbers, everyone was patient. They had waited this long to see Obama take office, and they could now wait for the subway.

I watched the campaign develop from Iowa to Denver to Washington, D.C., where not only Americans, but also hopeful people all around the world, watched Barack Obama become the 44th president of the United States. Even though I couldn’t vote in this election, I felt like I made my contribution by spreading awareness and having more involvement than any teenager could hope for.

Elizabeth Landers is a senior at Maclay School who reported on several of the seminal events of the presidential campaign.

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