CHICAGO — From the beginning, Barack Obama has blended cultures.
His father was a black scholarship student who traveled from Kenya to attend the University of Hawaii. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (her father wanted a son), was white and just 18 when they met.
Barack was born Aug. 4, 1961. His parents' marriage was short.
His father left to study at Harvard when his son was 2, returning just once eight years later.
By then, Obama had already lived in Indonesia — homeland of his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro. It was an early exposure to the harsh realities of Third World poverty.
After four years, Obama returned to Hawaii, first living with his mother, then with his maternal grandparents, all transplants from Kansas.
Today, Maya Soetoro-Ng sees traces of all three family members in her half-brother.
From their mother, she says, "he gets his ability to build bridges, to keep an open mind ... his taste for adventure, his curiosity and his compassion."
From their grandmother, Madelyn: "his pragmatism, his levelheadedness, his ability to stay centered in the eye of the storm."
From their grandfather, Stanley: "his love of the game."
After high school, Obama attended Occidental College. He later transferred to Columbia University and graduated.
He arrived in Chicago in 1985 with a map of the city and a new job — community organizer.
After three years, Obama was ready to move on — to Harvard Law School, where he had two pivotal moments. One when he met another Harvard law graduate, Michelle Robinson, who would become his wife and mother of their two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Next, when he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
With graduation, Obama returned to Chicago and joined a small civil rights firm, ran a voter registration drive and lectured on constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
In 1996, he won a state Senate seat and became known as a pragmatist who would cross party lines, working with Republicans and other Democrats.
Three years in, Obama challenged U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and was trounced.
Two years later, he began plotting his U.S. Senate campaign.
Obama launched his national political career with a stirring keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The buzz began that very night. Commentators and politicians touted him as a possible White House contender.
Four months later, Obama won the U.S. Senate seat in a landslide.
After first saying he had no intention of running for president, he changed his mind and announced his candidacy in February 2007 on the steps of the Old Capitol in Springfield.
And so began a 16-month endurance test.