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Pres. Obama's Farewell is What Happens When Grace Meets Dignity

Pres. Obama's Farewell is What Happens When Grace Meets Dignity

After opening with a patented Obama ‘dad joke’ (“You can tell that I’m a lame duck, because nobody is following instructions”) the President was all business. At McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, President Obama delivered the third most consequential speech of his life, his farewell address.

President Obama prepared the nation for his inevitable departure. He leaves with the same deeply held optimism for the potential of the United States as he had when he entered the office. Ever wondering, ever teaching, ever dreaming, President Obama walked his hopeful talk till the end. Assuring his audience that every tool necessary to elicit positive change was at their disposal. Stating, “That we the people through the instrument of our democracy can form a more perfect union.”

According to Obama, the keystone for our future success lays in utilization of the ‘great gift’ bestowed upon us by the Framers – that gift is the U.S. Constitution.

President Obama’s tribute to staffers, organizers, and volunteers was a genuine show of appreciation. Evident on the faces of his staff was sadness mixed with the reality that serving President Obama has been the honor of a lifetime.

Knowing that his political rivals are incapable of devising a healthcare law superior to the Affordable Care Act, gave President Obama the confidence to indirectly brag about the virtues of his plan. Obama informed that, “If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our healthcare system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.”

Mounting a campaign on Hope eight years ago, President Obama’s revitalized hope has a new target – young people. Obama expressed the genesis for his hope, declaring, “This generation coming up is unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic…believe in a fair and just and inclusive America. [who understands] that change is not something to fear, but something to embrace.”

The movement he hopes to inspire demands participation from our youngest generation. There could be no better messenger to insist that young people get involved and assume the mantle of leadership, than President Obama. Throwing (not so discreet) shade at people whose first inclination is to complain rather than step in, Obama may have finally broken through. Only time will tell if his message resonated or fell through disinterested cracks.

Will election officials nationwide receive an influx of filings from Millennials looking to serve? Or will young people ignore Obama’s call to ‘lace up your shoes and do some organizing when something needs fixing.” Instead of trusting others with the responsibility of preserving their future, President Obama called on young people who are ‘disappointed with elected officials, to buy a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for public office!”

In his final address to the nation, President Obama did not forget the single issue he was unable to gain traction, gun violence. With a subtle reference to the eulogy he delivered in front of a congregation at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama repeated his call to ‘presume the reservoir of goodness in other people.’

Since failing to acknowledge Trump would have been a disservice to his legacy, President Obama’s sharpest criticism highlighted his successor’s demagoguery and fear mongering during the 2016 campaign. Obama asserted, “Democracy can buckle if it gives in to fear.”  This is a reminder to the nation and those who supported his successor, that we are stronger when enacting policy from positions of power rather than gaining support by stoking fear or widening divisions. 

President Obama remains measured in his approach while calculated in delivery. But even the most well-prepared and skilled presenters are caught off guard when flooded with emotion. These moments typically arise when President Obama reflects on his family or the impact of legislative policy on young children. Tuesday night was no different. As he neared the end of his historic remarks, he found himself once again, in an emotionally vulnerable position.

After removing a handkerchief from his pocket to subtly wipe his eyes, President Obama directed his message to the First Lady as he fought back tears and explained, “For the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.” The bond of affection that unites President and First Lady Obama is one of mutual respect and love. Their relationship has been on public display for eight years, and despite the unending public scrutiny, the Obama’s have held their heads high in the face of unspeakable evil.

Closing his remarks, President Obama revisited a passage from his iconic 2008 New Hampshire primary speech:

“I do have one final ask of you as your President. The same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I’m asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents. That idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists. That spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who march for justice. That creed, reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon, a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written – yes we can. Yes we did! YES WE CAN!”

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