MIAMI — When she accepted an invitation to participate in the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference last summer, Vaniecia Scott had no idea she would be attending the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
In addition to attending the Jan. 20 swearing in and the inaugural parade, the 17-year-old will be afforded an opportunity to attend other private events “such as roundtable discussions with national journalists, meetings with congressional staff, and point/counter point debates with leading political experts, as well as special events with VIP’s,” according to the program’s website.
One of those special events will happen on Inauguration-eve, and will include former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Scott said she paid some, but not much attention to the presidential campaign early on. Her interest in Obama’s historic run did not pick up until the debates between the president-elect and his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
But now that Obama has been elected as the nation’s 44th president, and especially because he is the first black person to achieve that goal, Scott said the magnitude of the event is beginning to sink in, and she is thrilled that she will be able to experience it first-hand.
“At first I didn’t really recognize how grand it was, but now I see it, and it’s really exciting and I’m anticipating it,” the soft-spoken 11th grader said.
Scott got her opportunity after accepting one of several youth-oriented leadership programs offered by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council.
CYLC is a leadership development program for high-performing high school students who also demonstrate a strong commitment to community leadership.
The Miami-Dade County Commission, at the request of Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, named Dec. 4 in honor of Scott and her twin brother, Harold.
Edmonson recognized the siblings for their service to the community. Scott said they were introduced to helping others by their maternal grandmother, Josie Poitier.
A friend of Poitier’s paid the $2,000 cost for the youth conference. An anonymous donor paid the cost of airfare and lodging for Vaniecia’s trip to Washington, D.C.
“Oftentimes, we only hear of young people who get in trouble, who don’t do well in school, who don’t care about their community,” Edmonson said. “I am pleased to recognize Vaniecia and Harold today for their work on behalf of our community, and for keeping our faith alive in the goodness of our young people.”
Vaniecia said she and her brother have been volunteering with their grandmother since they were six.
“We help my grandmother with the senior citizens and sometimes children,” said Scott, who is also president of her school’s HIV/AIDS Peer Educators Club and a member of the Future Business Leaders of America club.
The Scott children’s service has even taken root in the international community. In 1998, the siblings collected school supplies for children in Africa as part of an initiative by former Charles Drew Elementary School Principal Fred Morley.
The Scott children’s mother, Vandetta Thomas, said Vaniecia’s academic achievements in middle school led to her being singled out for an invitation to the PYLC.
“She’s self-directed,” Thomas said.
Scott, who has an unweighted 4.0 grade-point average (without her honors classes factored in, she has a 3.5 weighted GPA) said modestly, “I’m a pretty good student, I make good grades.”
The attractive teen who likes to “just hang out with my family and friends,” and has her eyes set on attending Florida State University, the University of Miami or possibly the University of Florida, said the best advice she’s been given by an adult came from her grandmother, who said, “Be a leader, not a follower.”
Poitier, who will accompany Scott to Washington, D.C., said of her granddaughter’s opportunity to attend the inauguration, “That [is] just a blessing. The 44th president, how blessed she is to go.”
Photo by Khry Bruyning. Vaniecia Scott