After a strenuous day of confirmation hearings and unsettling news about Donald Trump, the long-awaited moment of President Obama’s final speech to the nation has arrived.
Barack Obama spoke from Chicago, where he first took the stage eight years ago when he was elected the 44th president of the United States. The president smoothly walked out to a room full of cheers and ovation. When he turned his head to greet another side of the room, the cheers multiplied exponentially.
Needless to say, no one is ready for his time in the White House to end.
After quieting the excited crowd, Obama addressed his “fellow Americans” for the last time. He began his address with a statement of gratitude to the American people for making his and Michelle’s time in Washington so inspiring.
During the first moments of his speech, there appeared to be a protester in the room; however, the boisterous crowd quickly covered her up by chanting “four more years!”
The last year has been a contentious time for the country, and many found it hard to remember what it means to have pride in America. Yet, in highlighting the brave accomplishments of many historical Americans, President Obama reminded us this country works “for all, and not just for some.”
Then with a smooth transition, the president read the list of incredible feats that came under his administration including taking down Bin Laden, instilling marriage equality for all, and fixing the national recession.
And then he spoke of how our democracy only works when it reflects the decency of all our people. The state of democracy quickly became the theme of his speech. Although it may not seem like the current state of affairs, the president was right in saying, “we rise and fall as one.”
“The uninsured rate has never been lower,” the president said to a room full of cheers.
“If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better,” President Obama said, “I will publicly support it.”
The president’s calm and resolve filtered out into the room when he spoke of how this country needs to create equal opportunities for people to thrive economically.
Then he addressed the elephant in the room by admitting that a post-racial America does not exist.
“Race relations are better than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago,” the president said. “But we’re not where we need to be.”
He then unpacked the potential this country has when we accept people from all backgrounds as genuine Americans.
The president warned the country that “if we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants,” we will diminish the potential of all children because “those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”
And like the well-read president we know him to be, Obama quoted the iconic character Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. He made it very clear that we all need to pay attention and listen to each other’s experience. White Americans need to acknowledge that the effects of slavery are still prevalent and that Black Americans are demanding equal treatment, not special treatment, when they take to the streets in protest.
In giving America a quick history lesson, he reminded us that the same sentiment that many have about immigrants today are the same ideals that were spread about the Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants of the past.
If the president had one mission during his speech, it was to make it clear that this country works together and we must be diligent in deepening our empathy for one another.
The current climate of the country allows us to live within bubbles of information we choose to believe, instead of being surrounded by ideas that we believe in and that challenge us. If we hope to find common ground, then everyone must stop talking past each other.
“Reality has a way of catching up with you,” Obama said, quoting his mother.
The president then shifted his focus and spoke to the order of country that is currently being challenged. For those wishing to challenge the democracy of the nation, the president warned, “No one who threatens America will ever be safe.”
And when the president announced that he would be making his final point, an overwhelming sigh poured out from the audience. However, he drove his message home by saying what this country needs to do for the betterment of all people.
“We should be making it easier, not harder to vote,” Obama said. “[No change] happens on its own, all of this depends on our participation, on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship. Our Constitution is a remarkable gift, but it has no power on its own. We, the people, give it meaning.”
As he prepared to wrap up his speech, he quoted George Washington’s own farewell address to say that our country counts on us not just during an election, but during an entire lifetime.
“If you are tired of arguing with strangers on the internet,” Obama joked, “try talking to one of them in real life.”
The president encouraged those disappointed with current politics to “lace up their boots” and start their own political careers.
Then the president ended his political talk, gave a heartwarming thanks to his wife, Michelle, and the crowd rose to their feet, including their daughter Malia, who was wiping tears from eyes.
The president then wiped tears from his own eyes when speaking about how graceful and dignified Michelle was as first lady.
“You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud,” President Obama said with a trembling voice.
He then addressed Malia, who could not help but be emotional hearing her father speak. Obama spoke of the how incredibly she and her sister handled their time in the spotlight, although Sasha appeared to be missing from the evening.
“I am most proud to be your dad,” the president said to a smiling Malia.
His thanks then moved to the “scrappy kid from Scranton,” Joe Biden. While addressing him and his wife, Jill, the president talked about how he not only gained a vice president, but a brother in the process.
As he rounded to the corned to the end of his speech, the president offered a solid request to everyone in the room and at home watching.
“I am asking you to believe, not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” the president asked.
He continued to draw his remarks to a close, but not without emotionally delivering his iconic phrase, “Yes We Can.”
Yes we did make history by electing the country’s first Black president, but our work is not done. We can and we will make this one nation for all, and that is all because of you, Mr. President. Thanks, Obama.
(Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)