Today we celebrate the 59th birthday of our Forever President, Barack Obama. While his presidency ended on January 20, 2017, Obama has continued to be a part of our lives and continues to give this country the hope and leadership that typically comes from sitting commander-in-chief in the White House and we're grateful. To celebrate 44’s big day, here’s a look back at some of his most memorable moments since leaving office.
Immediately after leaving office, the Obamas took a much-needed vacation to the Virgin Islands, where we got to see the former president in nothing but swim trunks and a big ol’ smile. According to an interview with The Undefeated, the former President said the extensive vacay was a promise to his wife: “I’m gonna take Michelle on a really nice vacation, because she deserves it,” he told the outlet. “She’s been putting up with me for quite some time.”
A few months after their vacation, the Obamas returned to their hometown of Chicago where Barack Obama made his first public appearance since leaving office. He hosted a discussion at the University of Chicago, where he was once a Constitutional law professor, with students from across the city. We were thrilled to see him back on U.S. soil.
Later that week, on May 3, 2017, the Obamas unveiled the conceptual vision and site map for the Obama Presidential Center at a community event hosted by the couple. The plans for the Presidential Library called for a museum, a restaurant, an auditorium, a public garden and a library. Of course, the location is also significant: the Obama Presidential Center will be built on the South Side of Chicago where Ms. Obama was born and raised.
In August of 2017, Barack Obama — king of the Dad Jokes — got choked up while he and Ms. Obama moved their daughter Malia into her college dorm at Harvard University. He may have been the leader of the free world, but to his girls, he’s still just Dad.
In October 2017, Barack Obama appeared together with the other former U.S. Presidents (Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) for the first time since 2013 to help raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey. At the time, Lady Gaga, who also participated in the event, tweeted, "Nothing more beautiful than everyone putting their differences aside to help humanity in the face of catastrophe."
President Obama was a fixture on the late night talk show circuit, making sure to stop by regularly to stay connected to the American peope, explain complicated policy issues and just have a few laughs (who could forget “Slow Jam The News”). In January 2018, the former president returned to the couch for David Letterman, appearing on the talk show icon’s new Netflix series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman,” where he was the show’s first guest.
One of the highlights of the interview was when Obama revealed what he did on his first day out of office: “I slept in – which I was pretty happy about … I sort of enjoyed puttering around the house, finding out, ‘Does the coffee maker work?’ and fighting with Michelle for closet space.”
According to tradition, former Presidents of the United States and their First Ladies are commemorated with portraits in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., created by artists of their choosing. The Obamas’ portraits were revealed in February 2018, and they were absolutely breathtaking. President Obama’s portrait was created by Kehinde Wiley and the former first lady’s by Amy Sherald, both African-American artists.
Who could ever forget the moment in 2012 when President Obama got emotional over the death of Trayvon Martin by saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” The magnitude of police-involved killings of Black people in America is not lost on the country’s first Black president. This past June, at the height of a racial justice uprising, Obama convened a group of the best and brightest for a virtual town hall called "Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence." The event, hosted by Obama’s My Brother's Keeper Alliance was broadcast live on BET and addressed the nationwide protest following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. At the townhall, he spoke directly to the Black youth of America saying, “I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter." He also made a specific demand for mayors to revisit the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
This has been a less-than-ideal year for graduates, many of whom saw their ceremonies canceled due to the pandemic, but President Obama made it special, especially for HBCU grads, with a virtual commencement speech that will go down in history as one of the best. The two-hour event, which took place this past May, celebrated more than 27,000 students from 78 schools.
Obama’s speech also contained a number of buzzworthy moments. Addressing the lack of leadership in the current administration's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, he said "More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing." He then added a direct shot at President Trump: "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge. If the world's gonna be better, it's going to be up to you."
Always a huge supporter of anything his wife decides to take on, President Obama was the first guest on Michelle Obama’s new Spotify podcast called The Michelle Obama Podcast, which debuted on July 29.
The couple discussed the value of community, reflected on insights gained from attending elite schools, and the importance of the younger generation being politically engaged. Obama, who was the first African American to be president of the Harvard Law Review, said his education at Harvard gave him the "credentials and security" to work in community organizing.
"When I thought about how I want to spend my life, what I looked at was what those civil rights workers had done...And the freedom riders had done. And I thought, you know, that looks like hard work but it never looks like lonely work,” he said. “That looks like hard and risky work but it never looks like selfish, isolated, meaningless work." He continued, “When you and I think about what's the inheritance that we would like to leave Malia and Sasha, more than anything what it would be is that they are living in a country that respects everybody and looks after everybody. Celebrates and sees everybody. Cause we know that if we're not around, that those girls are in a society like that.”
Two weeks after Rep. John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 from pancreatic cancer at 80 years old, President Obama delivered an emotional yet inspiring eulogy at his homegoing service on July 30, 2020 in Atlanta.
“I’ve come here today, because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom,” he said. "I was proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine. He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals. John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”
(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)