• Steve Grossman, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, says the inauguration is a chance for the new president to rally the people -- young, old, rich and poor -- to sacrifice and work for a cause, possibly energy independence.
Obama, he says, could use the moment "to bring the American people together and rededicate to some bigger challenge, some Apollo project, some Kennedyesque-man-on-the-moon-by-the-next-decade-type project ... that is part of our future (as) an independent nation and a sovereign nation built on our own ingenuity as people."
• Harry Thomason, a TV and film director/producer who worked on the Clinton inaugurations, suggests that Obama harness the power of the Internet, both to make more people feel they're a part of the event -- "I'd set up a lot of webcameras," Thomason says -- and to focus on a particular cause.
"It might even be possible to use the Internet to gather money for something -- the homeless or another cause, something that could happen fast," Thomason says.
The Internet already has played a huge role in Obama's historic rise to the presidency, enabling him to raise record amounts of money online.
Williams, who signed up as a campaign volunteer early last year, is confident Obama can rise to the occasion.
"We know that our country is in good hands," she says.
And she is determined to be here to celebrate.
She made her hotel reservations just days after Obama's strong showing in the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5.
Since becoming a volunteer, Williams has collected a vast array of campaign memorabilia, including T-shirts, posters and even a water bottle from which Obama drank during a visit to her home. It sits on her bedside table and everyone in the family knows not to touch it.
"I have his DNA in case we need to clone him," she says with a laugh.
Now, she's hunting for tickets to attend the swearing-in for herself, her husband, Damone, and their children, Dominique, 16, and Alyse, 13. She's contacted party officials, members of Congress and the campaign.
"I've been involved with this campaign every step of the way," says Williams, 50.
"There's no way I'm not going to be at that inauguration. So somebody better get me a ticket ... It's been a long 21 months for us."
Alan Solomont, a Boston philanthropist and venture capitalist who raised money for Obama's campaign, says he expects the tone of the day to be similar to that on election night in Chicago's Grant Park, when hundreds of thousands of people stood waiting outdoors for hours. Many in attendance wept openly when Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, walked on stage.
"I don't think anyone was forgetting the troubles our country faces" that night, Solomont says. "But that's exactly why we elected this man. We had just finished electing a leader who engenders the optimism that we are strong enough to weather any storm."
Begala says Obama has shown repeatedly that he knows how to set the right tone.
"It's instructive that the very first thing he did the day after being elected to the presidency was go to a parent-teacher conference," he says. "He seems to be an extraordinarily grounded person ... The inauguration takes on the character of the president. I think it's going to be fun, but I don't worry about it striking the wrong tone. I think this guy has perfect pitch."