It was a little more than eight years ago when President Barack Obama embraced his promise to lead the nation. On Jan. 11, President Obama melted hearts around the nation with his emotional, memorable and final farewell address at Chicago’s Grant Park where he held his victory celebration on election night back in 2008.
His hair grayer, his tone somber — yet the passion and hope he continues to have for the nation radiated.
In his speech, he recited a litany of not only his, but also the nation’s proudest achievements. Among them, the economic recovery from the Great Recession, the diplomatic outreach to Cuba and Iran, the death of Osama bin Laden, and the expansion of health care coverage to 20 million people and more (which by most calculations and sources, brought the U.S. uninsured rate to a historic low). And he even argued that if he or anyone else ever crafted a plan that was more cost effective and provided healthcare to more people, he himself would endorse it.
“That’s what we did,” he said to a jubilant crowd. “That’s what you did. You were the change. Because of you, by almost every measure, America is a stronger, better place than it was when we started.”
He also outlined the challenges of his eight years in offices and spoke of what he sees as the greatest threats to our democracy and both paid tribute to his supporters and colleagues while urging them to keep fighting for what they believe in.
“I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours,” he said.
While he never mentioned the name of his successor — even amid the loud, noted boos from the Chicago crowd — his words were gracious. But the bulk of his rhetoric felt like a defiant reproval of the controversial political ideology that the president-elect adopted both during and since the general election.
“We cannot withdraw from global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights — no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how the expedient ignoring of such values may seem,” said Obama.
President Obama made it patently clear that he will not tolerate any sort of discrimination against undocumented immigrants or Muslims and he will stand in opposition to any efforts which may potentially divide Americans along the lines of race, gender, sexuality or economic class — and he defended those who made their dissidence known through peaceful protest saying, “They’re not demanding special treatment, but equal treatment.”
“Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire,” said Obama.
It’s without a doubt that President Obama has a charismatic, genial nature about him and always knows how to convey his point — even through laughter. Obama presented the way which Americans have self-segregated themselves in terms of the news they consume and do not spend enough time heeding the Atticus Finch character’s advice from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life … you never will understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” Obama said.
Whether you like or disliked the man, he built a legacy that will be hard to forget. He instilled hope in this nation, and he believes that the millennial generation will preserve and protect his values — not just as the president of the United States — but as a human.
All said and done, President Barack Obama is human — his genuine, heartfelt tribute to his wife, kids and staff brought forth tears and a standing ovation to all those watching. Being the president of the nation was indeed something he will take pride in — but Obama himself stated his proudest achievement was being a father to his daughters.
He may no longer have any campaigns to run, but he pledged to be “right there with you” as a private citizen of this nation.