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Education Is Top Priority for Inauguration-Goers

Debbie Suer came to Washington, D.C., from California to attend the 57th Inauguration. At the age of 58, she decided to go back to college. Photo by Lukas Udstuen.

On a brisk morning, Debbie Suer sits bundled in a white winter jacket with a dark blue scarf wrapped around her neck. As she waits for President Obama’s inaugural ceremonies to start, she talks about the fresh start in life that made her trip to Washington, D.C., a possibility.

She’s about to begin her ninth semester with a 4.0 grade point average at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif.

At 58, Suer said she’s not the oldest one at her college, but she’s close.

“It’s actually a nice experience,” Suer said. “I know that I can absorb more and not be distracted by all the other things that I know the younger students are.”

She was invited to the presidential inauguration through her college, as part of the Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference, an event held every four years to introduce college students to Washington politics.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be here and to know everybody from the whole city is here for the same reason,” Suer said. “And, to be a part of this historic moment is just phenomenal.”

Right now, she’s studying alcohol and drug counseling. She’s also the mother to two adopted girls, both of whom were addicted to heroin at birth.

Still, going to college wasn’t a part of Suer’s original plans.

“My husband has Parkinson’s disease, so he can’t work anymore,” Suer said. She had an in-home daycare, but during the 2008 economic downturn, fewer families could afford her services.

After closing her in-home daycare, Suer said she decided to make a change.

“I had to do something, so I went back to school — which was really a hard thing to do with two kids,” Suer said.

College enrollment has been climbing in recent years. Studies also show people with more education generally earn more money, according a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau report. It revealed that those with a bachelor’s degree were estimated to earn $900,000 more over 40 years than those with only a high school diploma.

Suer doesn’t have her degree yet. But she is very grateful for the immense community support she’s received to get her through, including help from the College of the Desert Foundation who sponsored her visit to the inauguration.

“I’m not working, so it cost like $4,000 for airfare, for tuition for the conference, the hotel — we had to get money to have someone stay overnight to watch my husband and my kids,” Suer said.

“I’m just excited,” Suer said. “I’m trying to document as much as I can, and put together a PowerPoint for my kid’s schools.”

Debbie’s story is just one of many from the wealth of people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration. Hear more voices talking about what they’d like to see happen with education in the next four years:

“I Truly Believe in the Public Education System” from NewsHour University on Vimeo.

Politicians, Keep Your Promise to Young People from NewsHour University on Vimeo.

Lukas Udstuen is a journalism student at the University of Missouri. He covered the inauguration for Inaugblog.

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