EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 13, 2009

They're heading to Washington

Folks across Valley gear up to visit Washington for inauguration

By Jill Harmacinski

11"I'm not going for style," Konjoian said. "I'm going for warmth."

Across the Merrimack Valley, dozens of folks are gearing up to witness presidential history firsthand.

Tuesday, when President-elect Barack Obama puts his hand on the Bible, becoming the nation's 44th president, he'll have plenty of local company, including a poet, midshipman, parents, students, a birthday girl and others.

"It's an unbelievable thing. It's just awesome," said Linda Harvey, a Methuen mom who is heading to Washington, D.C., with her two daughters, Maxine, 12, and Talia, 9. Originally Hillary Clinton supporters, the Harvey family turned to Obama and the girls even made phone calls on the president-elect's behalf.

"They are so excited because they feel like they picked the winner," Harvey said. "Since the day he won, they just assumed they were going."

The inauguration also will be a big day for Maxine Harvey because it's her 13th birthday.

"I keep telling her that I'm convinced Obama is going to say in his speech, 'Happy Birthday Maxine,'" Linda Harvey said with a chuckle.

For some, the trip will be their first visit to an inauguration. Others have already witnessed the transfer of power and are reveling over a return visit.

"I am very excited. It's the presidency we are celebrating. I have to confess to having a little bit of Obama-mania," said Andover poet Mark Schorr, executive director of the Lawrence-based Robert Frost Foundation.

To mark the inauguration, Schorr has written a poem, "Elusive Air," which is addressed to Obama from the view of a person standing in the crowded mall during the swearing in.

"I know Obama loves language and poetry," he said.

The preparation, buildup of the event and a young family's move to the White House reminds Konjoian of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. She was just 12 then and remembers watching the event on television on a snowy Friday.

"There's a parallel here," said Konjoian, a special education assistant who lives in Andover.

Kennedy appealed to the American people through TV. Obama, in turn, captured many voters' attention using computer power, she said.

"One hand washes the other, so to speak," said Konjoian, who is visiting Washington with her husband, David. Their son Matthew lives in the D.C. area and works for an energy-related trade association. Last fall, while mom campaigned for Obama in Massachusetts, Matthew garnered votes for him in Virginia. The inauguration tickets, which they won through a political lottery, is "a great reward for a lot of hard work," Matthew said.

As a Lowell Catholic student, Wright was among a group of 130 high-schoolers who visited Washington, D.C., as part of the National Youth Leadership Forum. The students assumed roles as high-profile leaders and handled mock crises. His work with the forum led to an invitation to the inauguration and both the social and intellectual events surrounding it. To say the least, Wright, now a sophomore at UMass Lowell, is extremely excited about his upcoming adventures.

"I hope I get to sit next to someone really important so I can talk their ear off," he said.

And at the inaugural balls, he hopes to mingle with the stars.

"Hopefully, Oprah can give me a shout out and P Diddy and any other celebrities who will be there," said Wright, who is studying to be an electrical engineer.

Samuel and Maria Aliano of Methuen won't be in Washington next week, but they'll be closely watching TV, looking for their son Adam, a 2005 Methuen High graduate. Adam, who attends the U.S. Naval Academy, is one of 90 midshipmen selected to represent the academy at the inauguration.

In full dress uniform and carrying a rifle, Aliano will march three miles on inauguration day.

"I really wish I could be there," said Samuel Aliano, a retired Lawrence police captain. "We're all so proud of him and he's very honored to be there in that capacity."

A single mother, Harvey has worked diligently to make her daughters aware of government, it's role and power. She adopted her girls from China, where women are considered second-class citizens.

"I grew up thinking that government was just there. But my children believe that politics is part of everyday life. If you have a problem, you talk to a politician. You talk to someone in office," she said.

She's thrilled her daughters will be witness to the inauguration and all that it represents.

"To be there. To be part of history. To be part of a changing world," she said.