Two eighth-graders will attend Obama inauguration

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Two eighth-graders from East Quogue are attending President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday through the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, a non-partisan educational foundation.

Avalon Vanderslice and Matthew Sulzinski, both 13 and students at Westhampton Beach Middle School, are witnessing the historic ceremony through the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. They will leave Long Island on Saturday and return next Wednesday.

Both Avalon and Matthew have attended programs hosted by the Junior National Young Leaders’ Conference, another program organized by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council in which students learn about the inner workings of the federal government.

“I’m very excited, because this is a very historical event since it’s the first time an African-American will be President of the United States,” Matthew said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, really.”

Avalon said she and other program participants will spend most of Tuesday at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and, once the inauguration begins, they will walk to an area where they will be able to view the ceremony.

“When it was either going to be a president of a different race, or the first female vice president, I knew the election would go down in history,” Avalon said. “Either candidate would have helped the country.”

Avalon explained that while she and Matthew are in Washington, D.C., they will also learn about the steps Mr. Obama must take in becoming president, such as setting up his cabinet. She added that she and Matthew will have to document their trip in a journal. Avalon and Matthew are not receiving any school credit for attending the ceremony.

The inauguration program costs $2,500 and the airfare runs an additional $500, Avalon said. In order to attend, Avalon said she had to raise money from sponsors throughout the greater Westhampton community. She said she received generous donations from the Kiwanis Club of Greater Westhampton and the Rotary Club of Westhampton, as well as her family, friends and neighbors.

Matthew noted that his parents,

Paul and Barbara Sulzinski

were able to pay for his trip.

In addition to observing Mr. Obama’s inauguration, Avalon and the other students will listen to speeches from former Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind man to have climbed to the top of Mount Everest.

A special inaugural ball scheduled for Tuesday night will held at the William P. Cole Jr. Student Activities Building, which is an extension of the University of Maryland and located in College Park, Maryland. Both Avalon, who has a new gown, and Matthew are excited to be attending that event.

“I’m very proud and excited for her,” said Avalon’s father, Chad Vanderslice.

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