An 'amazing ride'
Riverhead High School grad transitions with Obama
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"As a child of 11 years, she painted herself with an air of confidence," Ms. Harroun wrote in an e-mail message last week. "As we built Sumerian cities and dressed in Greek togas, she learned the basics of her political dogma, with flair and courtesy."
This sixth-grader with a flair for politics was Danielle Gray, a 1996 Riverhead High School graduate, now a member of Barack Obama's presidential transition team.
Ms. Gray is an alumna of Duke University and Harvard Law School. She was an economics and public policy double-major at Duke and was voted "most likely to be a Supreme Court justice" by her Harvard class of 2003. She was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer before advising the future president-elect.
Two years ago, Ms. Gray took a leave of absence from the New York City law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, one of the largest in the world, to campaign with Mr. Obama. She said she'd first heard of then-Senator Obama during an alumni celebration on the Harvard campus.
But three years later, after Mr. Obama announced that he was running for president, Danielle's father, Patrick, fell ill, and she went back home to Riverhead to spend time with him. One night, she said, Mr. Obama called to see how the Grays were holding up.
"It really says a lot about his decency and the kind of person he is," Ms. Gray said. "Later in the conversation, he told me he wanted me to work on his campaign, and it was simply one of those things you don't pass up."
"I thought she was crazy to give up that kind of job [with the law firm], making that kind of money," Denise Gray said. "But she loves what she does. This is what interests her."
Danielle's mother was a homemaker, and her father ran a cleaning business for East End Cardiology.
"I thought she was going to be a doctor," Denise Gray said. "We'd tell her to do cardiology, we always need good ones. But she wanted to do something else."
She said her daughter always had an interest and a talent in writing, adding that she at one time wanted to write children's books.
Riverhead social studies teacher Dave McKillop, who taught Danielle "Introduction to the Analysis of Public Policy" her senior year, said he didn't think she'd make a good politician specifically, but he knew she'd be "very willing to serve her fellow man."
"If anyone can change the negative connotation of the word 'politician,' it'd be her," Mr. McKillop said.
He recalls Danielle as being "passionate, and one of the nicest kids I've encountered. It's nice when you can put those two things together."
Mr. McKillop, who voted for John McCain in the election, said it's "kind of neat that a girl went through my class, achieved greatly and didn't share my views politically."
Former Riverhead girls' basketball coach Ben Butler said that Danielle was the "consummate athlete, a very heady young lady, a workaholic on the court.
"She was a nose-to-the-grindstone type of kid, very articulate, and worked very hard for what she wanted," he said. "She was involved in everything, had to juggle so many things ... amazing."
Chrissy Spero, who was Danielle's basketball teammate Chrissy Janacek in high school, said that Danielle was "always friendly and always had positive things to say."
Ms. Spero lives in Riverhead and is married with a month-old child. She works as a nurse in the emergency room at Peconic Bay Medical Center. She, too, voted for John McCain, but she said she was glad to see the historic election.
"This is no surprise," Ms. Spero said upon learning of Ms. Gray's involvement. "She was very professional even in high school ... she was involved in everything, well-liked, down-to-earth, had a good sense of humor, you could always talk to her. And she was always nicely dressed.
"It's neat to see what people do when they grow up," she continued. "I'm very happy for her."
Riverhead science teacher Bob Jester described Danielle as a self-motivated student and an "excellent school citizen."
"It's not surprising to me that she's doing some really fine things with her life," he said. "She's the kind of student who'll be remembered for many years to come."
Ms. Harroun, for one, hasn't forgotten that enthusiastic sixth-grader in a toga, still able to fill some pretty big shoes.
"As an educator, it is a great joy to know that some of what we provided here in Riverhead will be carried by the wings of ones like Danielle to federal levels," she wrote. "I am greatly pleased to hear of her achievements and wish her continued success."
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