Dylan Hewitt got to the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia as the sun rose Friday to make sure he was first in line to meet Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone like me, who wants to follow in her footsteps," said Hewitt, 22, a graduate student in public administration.
He got there at 5:30 a.m. By 9:30, two hours before Clinton's scheduled book signing, the line stretched down the block.
The former secretary of state came to town to sign copies of her newly published book, Hard Choices, as speculation about a possible 2016 presidential run has approached a crescendo. The event's 1,000 tickets sold out in less than 24 hours, according to library representatives, with people paying $35 for a chance to meet Clinton (admission price included the book purchase).
Though Friday's appearance included no formal remarks from Clinton, her visit drew high-profile attendees such as City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Mayor Nutter, who spent a few minutes chatting with Huma Abedin, Clinton's right-hand policy adviser and wife of Anthony Weiner, the former New York U.S. representative. Marjorie Margolies, who recently lost a bid to reclaim her Montgomery County-based congressional seat and whose son is married to Clinton's daughter, was on hand, as was former Gov. Ed Rendell, a constant Clinton booster who slipped out a back entrance afterward with a copy of her book in his hand.
Most of the hundreds who waited in line to see Clinton got just seconds with her before library staff moved them through with assembly-line efficiency. But the event still fired up the crowd, which was mostly female, largely middle-aged, and generally hopeful that Clinton will soon announce plans to run for president in 2016.
"I wish I could have gotten a picture with her," said Barbara Hawkins of Germantown. "That would have been better. But it's OK. It was an amazing experience to meet someone I admire so much."
Clinton was not made available for interviews, and reporters were kept at a distance, in a roped-off section too far away to hear the words she exchanged with book buyers.
For them, the hours-long wait provided time to perfect what to tell Clinton when their chance came.
"I'm just going to say, 'Please run. Just run,' " said Chris Bleiholder, 48, of Mount Laurel. "She's probably the most well-rounded candidate that either party is going to see."
And one of the most admired. A Gallup poll released this week found that 54 percent of Americans view Clinton favorably, slightly less than the 59 percent this year.
A Washington Post poll found last month that 61 percent of women surveyed said they would vote for Clinton; 49 percent of men said likewise.
Men such as Hewitt, who waited about seven hours Friday for his moment with Clinton and is about to complete a master's degree in public administration at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government.
He said he believed Clinton was a trailblazer whose passion for public service would continue to inspire others to dedicate their lives to government - and he told her so.
Hewitt said, "I told her that because of her work, I, too, believe I can crack whatever ceilings are above my head."