Filled with hope in Burlington Township, NJ

Inquirer staff writer Rita Giordano reports:

At Burlington Township High School, a racially diverse school in Burlington, NJ, seniors Melissa Dallmann, 18, and her friend Tyler Riley, 17, watched the inauguration with about 100 other students in the school’s performing arts center.

As the procession began and Micehelle Obama emerged Melissa turned to Loetta Henry, an 18-year-old senior.

“Jackie O...Michelle O.,” said Melissa.

“She’s so poised,” the girls said to each other.

As Obama appeared, the students cheered.

But Tyler and Dallmann clutched each other's hands.

For Riley, who is African American, Obama’s inauguration opened a new world of possibilities.

“Grown-ups tell you that you can become anything,” he said. “But for minorities you couldn’t acheive everything, you could achieve almost everything.”

His life-changing shift toward a limitless future began as he watched Obama make his acceptance speech in November in Grant Park.

“That’s when it clicked for me,” he said.

“I never thought we’d have a black president in my life time,” he said. “Now with him taking the oath it feels like everything is possible.”

But as Tyler considered the endless variety of opportunity, his optimism was tempered by the nagging dread that something awful was equally possible.

“Throughout this whole process I’ve been extremely nervous,” he said. “There is always an idiot who will try to do something to make themselves famous.”

For Dallmann the day marked the completion of her intiation into American democracy. This was the first election in which she was allowed to vote. At first she was a devotee of Republican candidate John McCain. But an advanced placement class assignment to research Barrack Obama changed her mind.

She cast her first vote for the first African American President of the United States.

“It was like ‘Wow I’m a part of history. I’m actually voting for an African American president,’” she thought as she voted in November.

As Obama delivered his address, the two looked on in awe, squeezing their hands together.

As Obama concluded and walked away, the two sighed with relief.

“I think my hand broke a little bit,” said Melissa

“I feel hopeful,” said Tyler.

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