Complete Inaugural Coverage
"It's history in the making, and I'm really excited about having a black president," the 14 year old says. "I want to tell my grandchildren that I was there. I don't want to tell them I saw it on TV."
Valerie's enthusiasm is palpable, but her comment has a somber undercurrent. Her grandmother passed away on Jan. 2 after suffering a massive stroke. Valerie was withdrawn and quiet after the death, according to her mother, Cynthia. But as the inauguration drew closer, she developed a sense of urgency.
"Now she's in overdrive," says Cynthia McCarther-Parker, a Washington, D.C. schoolteacher.
For Valerie, "overdrive" means planning her day with precision.
Her checklist: pre-paid subway card, granola bars, water, blanket, gloves, five layers of clothing, ear muffs, chemical hand warmers and Obama scarf.
Her plan: since she lives in suburban Maryland, she will sleep over at a family friend's house in the city, wake up at 3 a.m., and arrive at the subway station when it opens at 4 a.m. Then she and her mother will brave the crowds and weather at a parade checkpoint, which opens at 7.
Valerie says her regimented schedule was influenced by her experience on Saturday when she went to Mr. Obama's train tour stop in Baltimore. It was there that she got her first up-close glimpse of the president-elect -- as well as her first experience with the president-elect's throngs of jubilant followers.
Her mother recalls that young people were jumping up and down that day and says she was in awe that they could be so excited about a political figure.
On the heels of her family's recent loss, the experience proved especially poignant.
"After what we dealt with earlier," she says, "it's a welcome change."