Obama inauguration shows how far America has come

Simone and Gianni Quartell attended a campaign event for Barack Obama in Canton, OH, on October 27, 2008.

Shortly before Barack Obama's inauguration, I was asked, "What does this inauguration mean to you?" The inauguration means so much to so many - but to me, it proves not only that anything is possible, but that no matter how bleak things look, things can get better. As a high school senior, I recognized the need for change and devoted my spare time to volunteering for the Obama campaign this summer and fall. Obama was someone who hsd done things I could admire. He is an inspiration and role model for me and all other Americans.

During the campaign, in addition to volunteering, I attended two rallies, one about an hour away in Canton and one here in Cleveland. I spent hours in line, standing in less than stellar spots, only to see Obama on a screen. But none of that bothered me. Both times were truly indescribable. It felt unreal. To see Obama speaking on TV always inspired me, but for me to be there was amazing.

During the final days of the campaign, someone said to me, "Why are you canvassing for him? You're white and Catholic and the daughter of a lawyer. You should be a Republican." I thought about that. Even though Obama hadn't won yet, he’d proved something. Although he didn't look like other presidents, had only been in D.C. for three and a half years and had a difficult youth, he could overcome all that. Even if he didn't win, he had come so far.

On Nov. 4, when I woke up after about a half hour of sleep the entire night, I told myself that regardless of the turnout, this had been the best experience of my life, and I'd always remember it.

That night, I was terrified as results came in. But then, at about 11 p.m. came the news I'd been waiting so long to hear. After a remarkably gracious speech from Senator McCain came President-elect Obama's victory speech. "Thank you to the best team ever assembled in the history of politics, you made this happen," he said. "Never forget who this victory belongs to. It belongs to you." That was me. There were so many others involved, but I was among the people he was referring to. I received a thank you card from the Obama campaign. I knew that, although they probably sent millions of those cards, they wanted me to feel special and like I was a part of it.

On Jan. 20, as I sat in my living room watching President Obama take the oath of office, I thought about how far America has come. It wasn't just that we now have a black president, it was that 53 percent of Americans had moved past decades of racism. It was that so many people recognized the need for change and reform. As Obama said that day, the challenges will take time to overcome, but they will be met. It would be overoptimistic to think they'll all be met right away. But if we all work together, as we did to get Obama elected, they will be met.

Simone Quartell is a senior at Cleveland Heights High School. She has been a member of The Black and Gold student newspaper since her freshman year, where she is an editor and has covered school district issues in depth. She plans to study journalism in college.

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Volume 2, Issue 3, Posted 10:49 AM, 01.28.2009