Jan. 20, 2009. I was in fourth grade at the time, craning my head so I could see the staticky classroom TV monitor better. My teacher was far more excited than my classmates were to watch the inauguration—history was happening. I was a little bit confused as to what an inauguration was, but it had something to do with getting a new president.
I didn’t realize just how momentous that inauguration was until later on, when I realized that racism hadn’t ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and that politics weren’t as distant and abstract as I had believed in my childhood.
President Barack Obama has been an inspiration to me growing up these past eight years—I’ve always admired his grace and optimism under trying circumstances (and, of course, his stellar sense of humor). He is down-to-earth and real, despite embodying an idea far greater than any single person: possibility.
For eight years, proponents of the so-called birther movement promoted conspiracy theories that President Obama was not a citizen of the United States and therefore unqualified to be president, but I don’t think that there’s anyone more representative of the America that I was raised to know. In 1961, a boy is born in Honolulu. His childhood is not that of a picturesque nuclear family with a white picket fence, but he works hard at everything he does so that one day he can make a difference.
And he does. He becomes someone who makes a difference in a million subtle ways, both with his policy and his persona. He becomes possibility, proof that “Yes We Can” can be put into practice. There is no better president for the millions of other youths of Generation Z to have grown up under. Despite facing the Great Recession, terrorism, a host of other conflicts abroad, and an increasingly polarized nation at home, President Obama has always been collected, classy, and—above all—cool.
As we face the end of the Obama presidency, I’ve been thinking about the collection of moments that made the past eight years extraordinary. On behalf of all of us, I’d like to say “Thanks, Obama,” for:
- Reminding us that greatness is never a given, it must be earned,
- Your grace after tragedy,
- Being able to laugh at yourself,
- Staying optimistic,
- Helping people afford healthcare,
- Your excellent sense of humor,
- Joining us in the room where it happened,
- Being the absolute coolest,
- And for reminding us that change is something to be embraced, not feared, as we begin a new presidency.