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George Bush was inaugurated for the first time on my 11th birthday. I cried bitterly. A week ago tonight Barack Obama was elected president, to be inaugurated on my 19th birthday. I cried last week and I'm sure I'll cry again on Jan. 20, but this time with euphoria.

Like most college students, I've come of age politically during the Bush administration. That is to say, since the liberal, progressive and radical among us have been aware of politics, we've had a president who we've mistrusted, a president we've been afraid of, a president who we don't believe is a moral or intelligent person. We've been suspicious of our country's democratic process and fearful for our generation's future.

I don't believe Obama is the answer to all of our country's problems and I certainly disagree with him on some issues. But for once, I believe that my president has my country's best interest at heart, that he will listen to the people and that he is essentially a smart, moral person. I trust my president-elect to take care of the United States.

"This is not only the first time I've had a president I've agreed with and believed in, but this is the first time I've been able to contribute to an election," said College sophomore Liore Klein. "I was able to encourage people to go to the polls and to vote myself. It created a sense of accomplishment."

This means that left-wing people under 25 can begin to develop a political identity of engagement and identification with the American system, instead of feeling detached and cynical. We may begin to believe that our opinion is of some infinitesimally small importance to policy makers.

"I plan on working in the Obama White House," said College senior Ina Cox. "On Tuesday night, this feeling of certainty came over me that I was living through a pivotal moment in history. . I'm loving it. I feel like anything's possible now."

The national myth of my generation's political apathy has hopefully been put to rest after Obama's win, a victory that quite plausibly may not have happened without overwhelming youth support both in the polling booth and on the campaign trail.

As the young left begins, tentatively, to step into the American political mainstream, we have some degree of confidence that we will be respected, that our participation makes a difference and that we have some hope for our futures.

The economy's in the toilet, we're fighting two wars, and millions of people don't have health care. Public schools are suffering, and it's getting tougher and tougher for average college or graduate students to afford their degree. We don't have a cohesive alternative-energy policy to sustain our country after the oil runs out. Most of the world hates us.

There's no way Obama can wave a magic wand and solve all of these crises.

But what I do believe is that his administration will make a good-faith attempt at it.

And though people like me might not agree with all of the remedies his government comes up with, we can at least believe that they are a start.

Over the past eight years, many of the things I love about my country have been diminished and threatened. The things I find most abhorrent have been exaggerated. I was never at Reverend Wright's "God damn America!" point, but I can see where he was coming from. Clearly Obama's election is only the start of a long process of reconciliation and healing that will take the cooperation of Congress, the American people and the international community. But I believe that within the next several years, I may for once be able to say "I am proud of my country" without ticking off a long list of exceptions and qualifications.

For once, left-wing people my age can begin to build a political framework that doesn't automatically have to dismiss the state as an agent for change. We can believe that our campaigns and protests may have an effect on the political process. We can hope that our country will finally realize the equal opportunity outlined in the Constitution and enshrined in the national mythology.

In a year or two or three, I may be jaded. But while Obama is president-elect, many things seem possible for me and people my age that haven't seemed possible in eight years.

As I hugged my friends and pumped my fist at honking cars last Tuesday night, a weight lifted off my chest that I didn't even know had been there.

Thank you, Obama and thank you, America. I'm looking forward to turning 19.

Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.

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