I wasn’t expecting to want to write something like this, but President Obama’s farewell address last night made me nostalgic, pensive, and pretty emotional.
I was a senior in high school when the beginnings of the ’08 election were taking place. I was a Republican. Not because I thoroughly understood what that really meant, but because it was how I was brought up. It reflected the views of the adults in my life that I respected and was raised by. I grew up in a pretty homogenous town. For the most part, everyone I knew at that point in my life was white, from Massachusetts, and some flavor of Christian. The biggest deviation from this norm was this annoying kid who rooted for the Yankees over the Red Sox (ugh, the worst). This sameness was what I knew. It molded my very early political beliefs.
I can remember vividly arguing that Hillary Clinton was terrible- spending time in high school researching negative things on wikipedia (lol) to use in debates at school with classmates that loved her. I thought she was going to be the Democrat candidate in ’08. And then when Obama came into the picture, oh boy, I was beyond annoyed by him. I thought every thing he said was fluff- I actually bought into the right wing media’s perception of him as un-American and unfit to be president.
In 2008 I went to college in Washington DC. I almost immediately got involved with the college republicans and campaigned hard for John McCain. I voted for John McCain. I cried when he lost the election. It felt like everyone on our campus celebrated the night Obama won the election- not me.
That being said, I swallowed my pride, accepted the peaceful transfer of power, and trusted that Barack Obama would take care of our country.
I understood the significance of having our first African American president and knew I wanted to be at his inauguration. I was living in DC after all- this is what I came here for, I thought. I was slightly skeptical of what the next four years of our country would look like, but like so many people that he inspired, I had hope that we’d all be okay.
Inauguration weekend was one of the best weekends of my life. It was mentally and physically exhausting, but it was amazing. I spent freezing cold hours upon hours with my best college friends that had become family on the National Mall plus millions of fellow Americans celebrating our country. It was the most patriotic thing I’ve ever been a part of.
Before the main inaugural event was the concert at the Lincoln Memorial where I saw Beyonce, Sheryl Crow, Herbie Hancock, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Bono, Usher, and Stevie Wonder all in one day. Steve Carell, Jack Black, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Laura Linney, Marisa Tomei, and Denzel Washington were there too. 18 year old Allison was blown away. You’d think that nothing could have been better than that, right?
With all the celebrity stripped away (minus Aretha Franklin, of course), Barack Obama was inaugurated as our president and it was truly awe inspiring. I was surrounded by a sea of American flags. I was surrounded by people crying because of the raw emotion of the moment (myself included). I was surrounded by chants of USA! USA! USA! We had all been on the mall since about 4am. We were cold. We were tired. But we were so happy. When I got home to my dorm room later that afternoon I ate an entire calzone from Angelico’s and slept for fifteen hours straight.
In the next four years to come, I changed as a person. My eyes were widened to the world by living in DC and the people I met. I broke out of my homogenous bubble and started to realize the significance of the causes that our President stood for. I couldn’t really identify as conservative anymore. My views changed as I became more educated- not just in the traditional sense, but through experience. I didn’t become a bleeding heart liberal overnight or anything, but over time, I softened. I became more empathetic. I listened and understood more. Over time I changed. I changed so much that by the time the 2012 election came around, I voted without question for the reelection of President Obama.
I’m not saying he was a perfect President. I don’t expect that from anyone. President Obama, however, was a paragon of decency and respect. He wore his endless compassion for others on his sleeve. He genuinely cared about this country and all of the people in it. He genuinely cared about the world and our planet. There was no doubt that he wasn’t tirelessly working to make this country stronger and better. And he did just that in so many ways. AND he did all this while having a sense of humor! He was able to make others laugh and he was able to laugh at himself. He was relatable and well, he was freaking COOL. Again, he wasn’t perfect- there were mistakes and things I’m sure he wishes he could have changed- but he deserves a huge effing round of applause for all that he did accomplish.
President Obama helped me become a better person. He played a part in changing how I see the world. His policies and his time in the White House shaped my young adulthood years in a memorable and positive way.
I could only be so lucky in my lifetime to see another President as wonderful as that man.
And don’t even get me started on the First Lady. How anyone could feel vitriol toward her is beyond me. She is the epitome of class. She is brilliant, kind, and endlessly passionate. She is well spoken and so gosh darn smart. How blessed we were to have a First Family full of so much love for one another. They faced so much unnecessary criticism and they handled it like they handle everything else- with poise and grace. Words cannot really describe how much I’m going to miss them.
I’d talk about Vice President Joe Biden next- but I really don’t want to cry all day.
We’re in for a long four years ahead. And I thank our lucky stars that this man, as a private citizen, is going to help us lead the fight for all that is being threatened as the PEOTUS gets ready to take office.
Thank you, President Obama. Thank you for being the President I initially didn’t want, and eventually, the President I needed.
I’m going to go keep looking at my photo album on Facebook from inauguration weekend and pretending that this all isn’t coming to an end for the day if you need me.