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Last month 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin danced with joy upon meeting the Obamas. Born in 1909, the centenarian has lived through 18 different presidents. But meeting Barack and Michelle Obama was a major achievement for the South Carolina native. Her excitement stemmed from coming face-to-face with a U.S. president and first lady of the same race: “I thought I would never live [to see] … a black president.”

While McLaurin waited many years for this accomplishment, there’s a generation of kids—pre-teens who came of age over the last eight years—who’ve never known anything else. I recently gathered a group of racially and ethnically diverse middle-schoolers to get their take on the significance and impact of America’s first black president.

Melinda D. Anderson: In 2008, when he was elected, there was a lot written about President Obama being the first black president. What does it mean to you that America elected a black man to be its president?

Josh Frost, 13: It shows we can change, because it shows that not only white people can be in the government. More people of different races would like to be president now, because Barack Obama became president. Before there were only white presidents, so they probably thought they had to be like them to do the job.

Avi Kedia, 12: It shows something [about] America, that somebody from a different race, other than white, can win the presidential election. We shouldn’t base the presidents just on race, we should base it on their actual skill. But it shows that somebody from a different race can rise up and go against what everybody else says and win. I could be president if I really wanted to. I just have to push myself. And it doesn’t matter if I’m Indian. It opens the door for everything really. If someone black can be president after it forever being white presidents, maybe a woman can be president. Or we can have a gay president. None of that even matters anymore.

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(Photo: The White House)