I finally mustered up the courage to listen to President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address, and I am left with an array of emotions ranging from pride and joy to heartache and worry. Obama has led the United States of America for the past eight years with grace, determination, hard work, an open-mind, and genuine love for his people. In his speech, he spoke of the power of faith, the importance of tolerance during disagreements, and maintaining your dignity and sense of self in times of struggle and loss. He repeatedly reminded us, the citizens, that the only true way to bring about any real change is when ordinary people get involved, “when they come together to demand it”. We have the freedom to do exactly that.
“What a radical idea. A great gift that our founders gave to us: The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good”.
Of course, the speech was not sugarcoated; in fact, it was as real as could be. Obama went on to point out that our progress has not always been a constant uphill trend. He states that it has been difficult, contentious, and often bloody. “For every two steps forward, if often feels like we take one step back”. But in the greater picture, he mentions, that we have made an overall forward motion through our capacity to change. He gives credit where it is due, to his family, to Joe Biden, to his staff and to us, the people (to which I may or may not have slightly teared up).
And then he speaks of our successes.
“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 (see my views on that here)…that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens…you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what (we all) did.”
Through the inspiration and emotional roller-coaster of a speech, there were no doubt a few moments of worry, and a few moments of light and laughter. When Obama reflected on the beginnings of his term and the audience shouted “four more years!”, or when he reminded us of the change in power happening in ten days and the audience shouted, “nooo!” Even in this time, Obama responded respectfully in ensuring that his administration would make the transition from one freely-elected power to another as smooth as possible.
Throughout his speech, he has one point of focus that he returns to over and over again- that we, the people of the United States of America, create change. We create change through our new ways of thinking, compromise when we don’t see eye-to-eye, when we give power and meaning to the constitution. He repeatedly encourages us to work together, to stand up for what is right, to be open to people and ideas and ways of life that are different from our own, that are outside of our comfort zone. This is the point he wants us to know and remember and leave us with. No matter who our next President is, change cannot occur without the people.
“I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours…hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants…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.”
I firmly believe that President Obama is one of the most influential, well-spoken, greatest leaders and role-models of our country that we have had in least the past several decades. He has accomplished more than anyone expected in eight years of presidency, and maintained his faith, sense of self, and integrity despite any setbacks. Well done, Mr. President, and Farewell.
PS- Too good not to share: