Hilton Head Prep graduate heads to D.C. for inauguration

E.J. DeGraef gave a surprising answer when his friends at Winthrop University asked him what he was doing this weekend.

"I won't be here," he told them.

DeGraef, a 19-year-old sophomore at the Rock Hill college and a graduate of Hilton Head Preparatory School, will instead travel to Washington for Barack Obama's inauguration.

He received an invitation last spring to participate in the University Presidential Inaugural Conference through a youth leadership program he entered in high school.

In addition to witnessing history Tuesday, DeGraef will spend five days in the capital and attend a black-tie gala, for which he has bought a tuxedo.

He doesn't know exactly what the conference will entail, but he has been told that Al Gore, Colin Powell, Lance Armstrong, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson will participate.

At first, before the field of candidates was narrowed and the magnitude of the election grew, DeGraef was lukewarm to the whole thing.

Once he knew that either Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Obama would make history, he agreed with his parents, Greg and Lynn Hicks, that the trip would be good for him.

He took a class on American government and tried to keep up with current events.

Still, he said, he's not sure what to think of the new realm he has entered.

"It's hard to know what to believe and what not to believe," he said.

He was leaning toward Republicans Sen. John McCain and Palin, but didn't receive an absentee ballot in time to vote for them.

The prospect of being in the presence of so many prominent people excites him, but he doesn't plan to become a politician himself.

Instead, he plans to study entrepreneurship.

DeGraef has been to Washington before but suspects this will be entirely different.

He wonders what security will be like and what Obama will say. Mostly, he plans to follow the advice of his parents, who told him to "take everything in and enjoy the great experience."

"I'm just going to try to get a good spot and then pay attention closely," he said.