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DNC offers a unique college road trip

By Scott Fowler

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Road trip! You may remember saying those two words in college yourself and what they implied. The enthusiasm. The craziness. The lack of planning.

Keylin Rivera, a senior at UNC Greensboro, is on a road trip. But hers is a little different than yours was. The 21-year-old from Gastonia is a delegate for North Carolina. A few months ago, she successfully campaigned in a one-day election with homemade posters and T-shirts to win a spot over “a lot of people who had been doing this longer than I’ve been alive,” as she said.

Of the close to 6,000 delegates in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, Rivera is undoubtedly in the running for “Most Excited.”

Bubbling with enthusiasm, she has been undeterred by little details like the fact she didn’t have a place to stay in Charlotte until a few hours before she arrived. She simply found one – a spot in an acquaintance’s apartment – with the help of Twitter.

Rivera began to get interested in politics during an AP government course she took as a senior at Gastonia’s Ashbrook High. That was in 2008 – she was too young to vote for Barack Obama in that presidential election, but did do some phone-bank calling and exit polling.

She has grown more politically active in college and has risen quickly in the ranks of the state’s College Democrats, where she has served as both president and vice president. She has already introduced Michelle Obama at an on-campus event in August and met President Barack Obama last October.

The experience in Charlotte has already been both overwhelming (she got lost walking around Monday afternoon) and awe-inspiring for Rivera, who majors in political science and Spanish and will graduate in May.

She said she can’t wait to hear Julian Castro give the keynote speech Tuesday night. On Wednesday, she is “scared she might faint” when she hears Bill Clinton speak. And on Thursday, who knows? She said the one time she met President Obama in October 2011 that she then went and “cried hysterically” in the restroom.

One thing is for sure: Rivera will be tweeting about her experiences. Rivera has sent out more than 26,000 tweets in her young life, including these from the last couple of days:

“Like for real I really love my president #Latinos2012 #Obama2012”

“Headed to Charlotte!!! I can’t believe I’m actually a delegate!!”

Don’t let all those exclamation points fool you, though. Rivera can be serious-minded. She has volunteered hundreds of hours in Greensboro as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking mothers at their doctors’ appointments.

Rivera’s father is Colombian and her mother is Guatemalan. She was born in New York and lived there until she was 15, when her father moved the family to Gastonia.

Only six years later, she was introducing Michelle Obama at a UNCG event. When they were both backstage, Rivera at first felt great – telling Obama she admired her as a woman and as a “fashionista” – before getting stage fright and saying, “I can’t do this.”

“She said, ‘Don’t worry,’” Rivera recalled. “She said you’ll be fine. She’s a mom. You can clearly tell that by the way she was hugging me.”

What way was that? Rivera proudly displays the background of her iPhone – a picture of Michelle Obama totally engulfing the 5-foot Rivera in a hug.

“She reassured me,” Rivera said.

It all went fine, and now Rivera is in Charlotte, as wide-eyed as anyone. “I didn’t know delegates got invited to parties,” she said. “I had no idea.”

As college road trips go, it’s not bad.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com
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