A month ago, Roland Burris was known as a former Illinois attorney general, a politician in semi-retirement. But these days he's in high demand, shaking hands and posing for pictures, and he entered the auditorium at Paderewski Elementary to applause.
Eighth graders at the school have been working for months, since long before the election, to raise money to go to the presidential inauguration. At the time, former Senator Barack Obama promised, if the raised the money, he would provide tickets. But things have changed.
"The senator is now the President elect, and he no longer has control of the tickets. The tickets have fallen into the hands of his successor. Oh, that's me!" Burris said.
The students have had to raise thousands of dollars for the trip. They came up $11,000 short, but Black Entertainment Television President Louis Carr is providing a check to make up the difference.
Until he is sworn in Thursday, he is still not officially the senator with voting privileges. But Roland Burris says he has already been told he will have almost 400 inauguration tickets to distribute. The first 35 of them, he says, will go to the students and their chaperones.
"In other words they are going to Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20 in Washington. They will have the tickets," said Burris.
It is one of the hottest tickets in the country-- and certainly in Chicago these days. But when they started working on it the students had no guarantee who would be the new president.
s "I never thought in all the life I live I would see a president that's black," said Bernard Person, 8th grade.
"This is our way of showing the children that when you plan and prepare and are successful, you can achieve your dream," said Dr. Jo Ann Roberts, principal.
Roland Burris leaves Thursday morning for Washington. He is scheduled to be sworn into office in the Senate Thursday afternoon. He says he is in charge of about 350 more inauguration tickets, but he has already been swamped with several thousand requests for those.