ATWATER -- Mariana Mancebo is all aflutter about Barack Obama's impending inauguration.
Sure, she's excited to be at the event with 14 of her classmates at Buhach Colony High School -- but that's not the source of her emotion.
"It will be the first time I have ever been on a plane," the 17-year-old explained at a planning meeting for the trip Wednesday afternoon. "I am excited to go anyhow."
Mancebo is enrolled in Travis Harding's government class at the high school and might even major in political science when she enrolls in college next year. Her career goal is to become a history teacher.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
The 15 Atwater seniors have paid or raised money for a five-day all-inclusive educational trip to witness the historic inauguration of the nation's first minority president.
The money was due the day before the election, so they were on board for the experience no matter who won.
"There is definitely a historical significance of Barack Obama's candidacy and winning the election," Harding said. "That said, the students signed on for the trip before he won, so they were more drawn by the opportunity to attend such an event."
Harding says his students will come away from the trip with a new appreciation for the American system of government.
It is also his first trip to a presidential inauguration.
"I am really, really pumped," Harding said. "This is my discipline, this is what I love. It is something I will remember for a very, very long time and something I can share with students for years to come."
The trip is as much historical moment as it is history lesson. The group will visit the Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln memorials. Then the students will walk in the steps of Lincoln and relive the last day of his life and his assassination.
Students who opt to do extra work during the trip can earn a half-credit on their high school transcripts through the World Strides program that planned their trip.
Chris O'Neill has visited the nation's capital before, so he is most concerned with navigating the crowds so he can get an actual view of the inauguration ceremony.
"It's got me nervous, I'll tell you that," O'Neill said of the crowds and his shot at a good vantage point. "It's such a unique opportunity to see one of the biggest changes in the history of the United States."
The 13 girls in the group are excited about the gala they are attending while in D.C. When the meeting wrapped up, what to wear was the topic of conversation: "Are you wearing a short dress? Prom dress? Was that the picture of the actual gala in the brochure?"
Kim Jones already has a huge portion of her wardrobe already planned for the week though -- various Barack Obama T-shirts.
"I have one for every day," she said.
Jones said she was pulling for Obama to win the election "because I really like his politics. I like the changes he wants to make," she said.
Harding doesn't seem to mind a bunch of overstuffed suitcases. He told students to pack heavy, prepare for all weather and come to the school to load Suburban trucks the night before they leave.
"It is going to be an adventure," Harding predicted of the chaos likely to ensue. "Are you guys ready for an adventure?"
No matter what happens, at least one student won't be disappointed.
"I have never been out of the state, so just going to the airport will be an adventure to me!" Mancebo exclaimed.
Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org