Jayson Harpster, an Army sergeant from Pennsylvania Furnace, is spending a few of his 15 days of leave from Afghanistan in Charlotte, N.C., enjoying what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity attending this years Democratic National Convention.
The convention kicked off Tuesday and ends tonight following President Barack Obamas nomination acceptance speech.
Harpster said he cant wait to see Obamas speech. Many convention attendees have raved about Michelle Obamas speech Tuesday night, and Harpster was no exception.
Michelle really set the bar incredibly high for her husband with her speech the other night, he said. I know theres going to be a lot of great speakers.
When Harpster attended college at Seton Hall University, he spent summers involved in local political campaigns and became involved in the Centre County Democratic Committee. He worked as an Obama field organizer in 2008 and said county Chairman Greg Stewart helped him get a position in Clinton and Centre counties.
During that time, he met fellow Democrat Bill Van Saun, who was starting Penn States ROTC program. Van Saun was elected this spring as a delegate to the convention, but Harpster said his training didnt allow leave time.
Instead, the elected alternate took Van Sauns place, and Van Saun and Stewart nominated Harp ster to take the alternate delegate position.
I feel bad that my friend wasnt able to come here, Harpster said. Its an incredible experience. I was just so thankful of all the people in the Democratic party.
Harpster said Tuesday nights speeches were incredible and uplifting and has enjoyed meeting other veterans at the convention. Wednesday he attended a packed room meeting of the Veterans and Military Families Council.
The really touching moment was, the event organizers had all the veterans in the room stand by generation, he said. And seeing all the veterans from different generations here, that was a great feeling.
Stewart, who is attending the convention, but is not a delegate, said great feelings and energy continue despite little sleep. Groups dont get back to their hotels until the early morning hours, and the Pennsylvania delegation meets for breakfast every day at 8 a.m.
Everybodys having a good time, he said. Everybodys tired.
And a few events could make the blooper reel.
Stewart said one bus ride involved a U-turn because Michelle Obamas motorcade drove by, and the road ahead was to be closed for an hour.
Nonetheless, Stewart said the first ladys speech was great and that the convention has been really exciting, including various star sightings, such as members of The Daily Show staff.
Everybodys really excited, Stewart said, noting speech high lights included former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and former U.S. Veterans Affairs assistant secretary Tammy Duckworth. It was a fun atmosphere.
Elizabeth Wortman, of Bellefonte, agreed. The Juniata College sophomore is attending the convention as part of a special course that focuses on the two political conventions. She received one of 10 spots and is one of four students attending the Democratic event.
All the speakers were really good, she said. I was really impressed. There wasnt a low point.
On Wednesday, Wortman was trying to get credentials to former President Bill Clintons evening speech and, beyond the speeches, is interested in the inner workings of such a big event.
Every state has their own delegation thats working hard, theres the DNC, the media, she said. Theres a lot of minute details that people dont know going into it.
Wortmans assignment is to help the Pennsylvania delegation with whatever it needs and, after attending various events and parties, she hopes to being involved in future conventions.
Its definitely a lot of fun, she said.
Stewart said the conventions focus so far has been on what has been accomplished in Obamas four years as president.
I think the point of this convention is to stress, where did we come from four years ago and where are we going, he said.
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter