“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your president,” President Obama said during his farewell address on Tuesday night.
No, President Obama, I thought. It has been the greatest honor of my life to have you serve as my president. From guiding our country through a recession back into economic growth, to leading the administration that finally legalized marriage equality, to providing affordable health care for all Americans, yours has been quite the presidency. The past eight years have meant a lot to me for many reasons, but yesterday was undeniably the highlight: I was able to be in the same room as Obama while he gave his final remarks as the leader of our country — an inspiring experience, to say the least.
I first learned that President Obama’s administration was giving away free tickets to the farewell address in our shared hometown of Chicago last week on Twitter. I was conveniently home for winter break, so I trekked across town at 5 a.m. to get the chance to hear this great man speak. I waited in line in the freezing cold along with thousands of other people for four hours, but no one complained. All we could talk about was how thrilling the prospect of seeing President Obama was. Music was playing and there was a fervor and warm energy in the crowd. All I could think as I waited was, Has there ever been a president who has been more beloved? Everyone who was able to get tickets left the line shouting, cheering, taking photos, and smiling from ear to ear. I was proud to be among them.
On Tuesday, I arrived at McCormick Place at 2 p.m. and, along with tens of thousands of excited people, waited in line for six hours. I was elated to see so many “I’m With Her” shirts, so many “Nasty Woman” buttons, so many “Fired Up, Ready to Go” shirts. Ever since the election, I have been cautious. I have felt the need to read the body language of every white person I encounter to figure out who they voted for, because if they supported Trump, I would feel threatened. But to see so many people of all colors and creeds there supporting President Obama and Hillary Clinton made me proud to know that there are still plenty of people in this world with good sense.
But even in this supportive atmosphere, we were not entirely protected from the looming political reality. All afternoon, everyone around me in line had been talking about Russia’s interference in the election and the dire political climate toward which our country is headed. In addition to this melancholy feeling, after standing very close to one another for most of the day, those of us waiting in line grew increasingly tired and hungry and started to feel claustrophobic.
But then, at 5 p.m., we heard the Chicago Children’s Choir and BJ the Chicago Kid begin to sing. The room in which Obama was set to speak had been buzzing with anticipation for hours before he walked onstage, and when he finally did, the energy was electric. It took a while for the audience to calm down: Everyone shouted about how much we love him and want four more years of his presidency and booed Trump. But once he was able to speak above the noise, he started saying things that we all badly needed to hear.
Obama delivered a message of going forward in unity. He asked us to build on his legacy and to never let any power, domestic or foreign, make us feel powerless. He reminded us that we don’t live in a post-racial country, nor do we live in an America without other flaws — that there is still work to be done. But he is a living, breathing example of where this country can go and what we can accomplish. He left us with a message of hope, and I am so glad he did, because up until that point, I was ready to give up on democracy. I was ready to give up on believing that there was any good left in this country. But President Obama’s words made me feel less afraid of the future. I will fight to protect his legacy, just like he asked.
As Obama left the stage and the audience came down from our high, I saw tears and smiles and heard cheers. But more than anything else, I felt hope. Thank you, President Obama, for that last gift to the American people. We are ready for the fight of our lives.
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