When the trip of a lifetime presented itself, Bailey Nairn didn't hesitate to accept.
The 16-year-old Bonner Springs High School junior is leaving Saturday for a five-day visit to Washington D.C. that will include a coveted spot at the inauguration of Barack Obama as president and dancing at a black-tie gala inaugural ball.
Nairn has, since middle school, been involved with the National Young Leaders Conference, where she is given the opportunity several times a year to meet with lawmakers and politicians in Washington, D.C., to discuss and learn more about the issues. She says she has only attended a couple of these conferences, but when the materials for the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference came to her in the mail, she knew this was a trip not to be missed.
"I'm so excited," Nairn said. "I've been a huge Obama fan, so it's really going to be exciting to witness history."
In addition to the inauguration and black-tie gala, the conference will include an opening-night reception for the students, addressed by keynote speakers such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Vice President Al Gore and various debates and political-related educational activities. Nairn and the other students attending the conference will also receive private access to the Smithsonian Institution on Jan. 20 - inauguration day - and will get to view the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Though this will be Nairn's first time flying alone, the chance to witness such a historical event first-hand far supersedes any trepidation she might have about going by herself.
"I think it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I'd really regret it if I didn't go," she said.
Also attending the inauguration, but without the same VIP access, is Mary Kimbrough, president of the Bonner Springs chapter of the NAACP. Though Kimbrough contacted two Kansas congressional representatives, she wasn't able to secure a much-hoped-for ticket to the actual inauguration. She will, instead, be one of the expected one million or more viewing the event from the National Mall. She expects not to be able to see much in such a large crowd, but it is more the experience that she's after.
"I probably would see it better on television, but I want to be in that atmosphere," Kimbrough said.
Kimbrough, 71, has a large family that includes five children, 13 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. She says it is also for them that she is going.
"This is an exciting thing in my life, and I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see that their great-grandma got to be at the inauguration during that period of time," she said.
As a member of the black community and as the president of the NAACP, naturally she is, as she said, "overwhelmed" to be a witness to the first black president's inauguration. But she said it is more than skin color that makes her believe in Obama's effectiveness as a leader.
"I think President Obama is a man for this time," she said. "I think he's very capable for this period of time."
Kimbrough also attended Obama's Oct. 18 visit to Kansas City prior to the election. She said the crowd there was big but would be nothing like the one on inauguration day.
"I expect it to be much more," she said.
Here in Bonner Springs, Kimbrough expects there to be much gathering in front of the television by friends and family members in the afternoon of Jan. 20 and later that night. The Democratic Party in Kansas City, Kan., will play host to a free inauguration gala from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Jack Reardon Civic Center, 500 Minnesota Ave. Drinks and entertainment will be provided, but Bonner Springs City Council member Jerry Jarrett expects the evening to be mostly one of conversation and debate.
"It'll primarily be people just gathering, communicating and discussing the issues," Jarrett said.
Unlike Kimbrough, Jarrett isn't looking to be a face in the crowd Tuesday.
"I actually had an opportunity to go," he said. "But I chose not to because it's going to be so congested."