Set to make history Tuesday as the first black president of the United States of America, Barack Obama invoked the memory of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King and promised to provide a government that works.
"Tomorrow we will come together as one people on the same Mall where Dr. King's dream echoes still," said the 47-year-old son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother Monday - just a few steps away from completing an incredible journey breaking through racial barriers.
With only hours to go before assuming the nation's highest office Obama declared Monday, a national holiday to honour King: "I am making a commitment to you, as your next president, that we are going to make government work,"
But, speaking to students at a Washington high school he warned, "government can only do so much. If we're just waiting around for someone else to do it for us ... it never gets done. We're going to have to take responsibility, all of us.This is not just a one-day affair."
Invoking King's memory at the school where students were making blankets and greeting cards, among other things, for soldiers overseas, Obama noted that King had "dedicated his life to working at the grass-roots level ... on behalf of justice and equality."
Obama began the day with a surprise visit to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre. He met with 14 patients injured in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
He then visited a National Day of Service project, stopping by the Sasha Bruce House, an emergency shelter for homeless teenagers in the national capital area. Roughly 30 teenagers are spending the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday volunteering at the shelter by helping to renovate a dorm room.
Obama rolled up his sleeves and pitched in during the visit, using a roller to help paint a couple of walls and a piece of furniture. He also quoted King to the teenagers, noting that "everybody can be great [because] everybody can serve."
"Don't underestimate the power of people who join together to accomplish amazing things," Obama added. Given the crisis America is currently in, "we can't allow any idle hands. Everybody's got to pitch in."
Obama also cited the heroics of US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who safely landed a crippled commercial airliner in the Hudson River last Thursday, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
"If everybody did their job as well as he did [his] job, we would be in pretty good shape," Obama said. Obama has personally invited Sullenberger to the inauguration.
Obama also issued a statement declaring: "King's was a life lived in loving service to others. As we honor that legacy, it's not a day just to pause and reflect -- it's a day to act."
Tuesday morning, President George Bush and first lady Laura Bush will greet Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the front portico of the White House and see them in for a cup of coffee before leaving together for the historic inauguration.
By the time Obamas return at mid-afternoon to the storied mansion, he will be the nation's 44th president.