We Can, Because of You, President Obama
I remember the first time I saw you speak in-person like it was yesterday.
It was the fall of 2008 on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. I was an 18-year-old preparing for my freshman year at a local community college, while also preparing to take part in my first-ever election. The weather was much like it always is during that time of year; cold, rainy, and gloomy. As the morning went on, while most of us were wearing gloves and scarves, many were blowing the hot air of their breath into their hands to keep warm, some even slowly jogging in place. In fact, if you looked up at the right moment, you could even see the condensation from everyone’s breath in synchronization with one another like we were all a part of one collective heartbeat. Yet, there we all were; huddled around one another, waiting under the mist of the morning fog to hear you speak to us.
Coming off the heels of the financial crisis of 2008, many of the people in attendance to listen to you speak that dismal morning had lost hope in the government (as it seems to be the case every election year). Michigan, however, was one of the states that were most impacted by the stock market crash in 2008, as Michigan has always primarily been known for its automobile manufacturing. My father was, and still is, a 40+ year worker for General Motors; one of the largest companies any sitting president has ever, quite literally, saved. Though he will never say it, you not only helped save his career, from a son’s perspective, I believe you also saved his life.
I listened to you speak that morning and although I cannot detail every word that you uttered in accurate detail, I can tell you that I felt goose bumps on numerous occasions. I listened to you speak about “change we can believe in” and joined the rest of the crowd as we chanted, “Yes we can,” during parts of your speech that resonated the most. You stood there, proud, with a firm look of determination on your face and let us cheer for you. Though it was from quite a distance, I could tell parts of you wanted to smile, so I smiled for you. My mind was made up on who I would cast my first vote for on Election Day 2008, and it was you. As it was, again, in 2012 and as it would have been in 2016 had you been allowed to run, again.
I smiled for you again as I watched you walk off the screen of my television for the last time as the serving president of our country on January 10th. As your farewell speech came to its close, I quickly became a pile of mixed emotions. Firstly, I was sad because you have, without a doubt, been an exceptional president to our country and I did not want to see you leave. Then, I became anxious because, like most Americans, I am uncertain of what the future will hold for us and that uncertainty terrifies me. Most of all, however, I was proud of you and proud for you.
I transitioned from a young adult to a mature adult under your presidency. Like all Americans do, I had to make a lot of crucial decisions during your presidency and you helped guide my decision-making process. You gave me hope and belief under your presidency. You showed me how to weigh my anger with patience. You showed me how to combat hatred with class. You showed me how to accept failure with pride. You showed me how to lead a country in a positive direction with unbending dignity. You didn’t just show me these things, though. You showed all of us.
Many Americans are heading into a new presidency in 2017 with undeniable fears of being harmed, overlooked, and neglected. Many Americans are afraid that they will lose their basic human rights moving forward because of the evil and hatred that regrettably still exists within our country, and in the world. I hold myself just as responsible for these problems because I, myself, have not done a good enough job to fight back against the negativity. Many of us did not deserve an exemplary president such as yourself. Many of us saw the change that you were fighting for and felt that was enough and we got lazy. In some ways, we failed you. Rest assured that we heard you.
You woke up a surging generation.
You encouraged us to question our leader(s) to ensure that their best interest is always in favor of our best interest. You even asked us to question you for that exact reason. Unfortunately, many of us will up until the very end. However, your legacy will never be forgotten and, just as you promised us over the years that you would never stop working for progress, I assure you that I will uphold that very same commitment moving forward. While I have done many positive things throughout my community over the years, you said it yourself, “There is still more to be done.” I only wish that I could have done more under your watch. Maybe, someday, I will run for office. If I do, it will largely be the result of you inspiring me to do so.
As your final day in The White House quickly approaches, I am full of gratitude, and humility, and appreciation for what you have done for this country. I am so proud to have been a citizen under your presidency. Because of you, I have learned the extreme importance of understanding that we are all in this together. Yourself, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha have shown the country how to stand together, as a family, while also sitting in the highest appointed chair, office, and house of this country. Your family has stood together just as America needs to do moving forward: as one.
Should our paths ever cross as citizens in this country, I hope you will accept my formal appreciation. For now, I hope these words will suffice:
I am much of who I am today because of you, Mr. President.
On behalf of all of us, I want to say, THANK YOU.