Tears filled my eyes as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, reached the end of his farewell address. Never have I watched a politician so graciously and effortlessly summarize eight triumphant years of his time in public service while inspiring optimism and good faith in America’s future. The 2016 election left me shocked. It left many shocked, scared, divided, angered, confused and apologetic for what could be at stake.
But, Obama, through his strong-willed yet tender words, reminded us of who we are, what we did and what we can do. He said a dream can become a reality when we realize the power to create change lies in our hands. We are part of a democratic society, one that gives the people a voice and the government instructions to follow.
His address reminded us that we must not shy away from discussion, argumentation or collision of differences. We must embrace opinions opposite ours to dismantle current polarization and prevent future prejudices. We must welcome those who may not look the same as us or who pray from different texts, but know they value and hold deep within their hearts the same ideals, dreams, ambitions and love for their friends and family as we do.
I keep saying “we” because that word describes the plethora of emotions Obama’s address made me feel. Yes, he made me feel inspired and determined, open-hearted and open-minded. But, most of all, his stillness, precision and sincerity allowed me to walk away from my computer screen truly believing that America is a “We,” not a “them” or an “us” or “those people.” A “We.”
This country is a “We” that can gather to hold hands and march peacefully in protest, asking for justice, equality and promised futures for those of all ages, genders and skin colors. It is “We” that can hold those with power accountable for their actions on and off the job, on television or through email and behind closed doors. It is “We” that demands transparency, empathy and perseverance to preserve and improve domestic and foreign relations.
The United States is a “We” that includes me, you and those around us. It is a “We” that doesn’t shut out a person for inquiring about our beliefs and on what basis those beliefs were founded. It is a “We” that doesn’t break away from existing agreements and laws that ensure the safety, rights and freedom for all. It is a “We” that isn’t concerned about how many zeros are at the end of our paychecks, but by the hours of generosity and altruism we put into a clock that never turns off.
I am only 21 years old, and I have — God willing — many years ahead of me. I hope to witness even more positive change and growth as I watch the world thrive and blossom into a reality that seems like a fantasy from a children’s book. I hope to see a world where all of us hold hands and don’t question the social status, sexual orientation or religion of the people next to us, but instead judge them by what values they hold closest to their hearts and pass onto others.
I will never forget Barack Obama. Yes, he made history, but from the start, that was not one of his goals. He showed all of us what we are capable of accomplishing, the willpower we can regain when we fall down after a hard-fought fight and the smiles that can brighten our faces when we achieve things others told us were unachievable.
So, thank you, Barack Obama, for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do. You truly are a remarkable man who practiced what he preached. For that devotion, I will be forever grateful.