When Sears DAlemberte was 6, he enjoyed eating over his laminated plastic placemat featuring images of all the U.S. presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush.
One day, Sears looked at his father, Josh DAlemberte, a history teacher at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, and asked why all of the presidents were white men.
Seven years later, Sears and his father will travel to Washington, D.C., to watch President Barack Obamas inauguration for his second term.
Im really excited to see him because that is part of history because Obama is the first black president, said Sears, now 13 and a seventh grader at Ransom.
Sears is one of many South Florida students who will trek to the nations capital to watch Obama being sworn in Monday as the nations 44th U.S. president. Some have tickets to the seating, others will stand shoulder to shoulder with the thousands at the National Mall. Estimates call for 600,000 to 800,000 to watch the ceremonies from the Mall.
Miami Country Day School will send 22 of its high school students to a program organized by the Close Up Foundation, a non-profit that brings students and teachers to Washington, D.C., to see the inner workings of the government.
The group left from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Thursday accompanied by Mari Conea, a U.S. history and AP teacher, and Dan Bronish, chair of the math and science department. They will be there for six days, attending political workshops and seminars, as well as attending the inauguration.
Ana Lis Garcia, 15, a sophomore at Country Day, has never been to D.C. She is excited about seeing the president, if only from afar on the National Mall.
Hes a really cool guy, she said. Hes one of the most famous people in history just like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt and all those great presidents. Hes probably one of them and I want to be part of that.
Students from Monsignor Edward Pace High School, Doctors Charter School and the MAST Academy in Miami-Dade, and Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory and St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Broward will also participate in the Close Up program.
A dozen students from other South Florida high schools will join about 1,900 students from across the country for the High School Presidential Inaugural Conference, an event held every four years by Envision EMI, an education company based in the Washington, D.C. area.
Students at the five-day conference will meet Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state; design and simulate a presidential campaign; and will view the inaugural parade from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.
Emily Riemer, 18, a student at Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, received the invitation for the conference in August and decided to go before she knew the results of the election. She had attended a leadership program in Washington last summer.
Riemer was one of the few students at Gulliver who could vote. She volunteered for the Obama campaign, watched the debates with her family and was proud to cast her first vote for the president.
I had just turned 18 and I was ready. I was waiting for it for a long time, Riemer said. Maybe that one person I signed up or that one phone call I made was another vote for him.