It was a Tuesday night. The wind howled and threatened the loss of power. Candles burned to somehow give us a perception of warmth, of comfort. The television bled blue across the hardwood floor. My outstretched feet rested on the coffee table before me. A full glass of wine rested against my hand and lap.
My throat constricted.
President Barack Obama stood before an audience in Chicago as he gave his final farewell filled with endearments and sewn together with admiration for this country he helped cultivate. In 2009, as an eighth grader, I cried when I watched his inaugural address in my junior high school’s library. I did not entirely understand what had just happened, but I knew it was monumental. I knew our country had witnessed an integral piece of history.
Four years later, I was able to be a part of that history. I flooded Twitter and Facebook with President Obama’s best moments, best speeches, and best qualities. It was never difficult. I never had to second-guess about whom I wanted to vote for because I understood the importance of inclusiveness and understanding. I wanted to vote for the poor, the single parents, the veterans, the teachers. I wanted to vote for the future of America.
At 6 a.m. on November 6, 2012, I made the trek across town with my mom so we could beat the rush at our polling location. I took a breath as I grazed my hand over the touchscreen ballot. I wanted to remember that moment. I wanted to remember the way my throat clenched and the way my face became hot. It was as though my body could not contain the emotion I felt as I hoped I had just helped Barack Obama receive a second chance in the White House. When we left the location, we celebrated by grabbing doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.
And then, that night when I returned home from my new job, I watched the election results on the living room couch with my mom. We buried our coffee table in snacks, but I cannot even remember what they were. It didn’t matter. It still doesn’t. What mattered was seeing those states turn blue. Indiana didn’t. It had lost faith since four years prior when it placed its trust in a Democrat’s hands for the first time since 1964. I didn’t though. I never did. I still haven’t.
Fast-forward to the evening of President Obama’s Farewell Address: My feet sat propped on a coffee table. I sat with someone who cares for the First Family just as much as I do. A candle burned in the background. I comforted myself with a blanket honoring my university. Snacks didn’t bury the coffee table this time, though. I was too upset to eat. A glass of wine rested in my hand. My face became hot again, but not from the blanket or the wine or the candle. Soft tears trickled from the corners of my eyes to my mouth and my shoulders. It was the end of an era.
Something I have always admired about President Obama has been his ability to form an intimate relationship with each person in the audience. His deep tone is conversational and relatable. His understanding of the Midwestern working-class struggle reverberates through every empathetic call to lend a hand to our neighbors regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, or race. His uncanny ability to make an audience laugh through tears of sadness will not be forgotten. His love for Michelle, Malia, and Sasha never went unnoticed. He promised our country hope, and he gave my generation inspiration to be better, do better, and love better.
Since his first election, Barack Obama had a knack for understanding the younger generation. He understood our need for belonging because we grew up during the in-between era: We went from VCRs to DVD players to Blu Ray players to streaming before we even graduated high school. We were raised by grandparents who fought in wars and parents who were forced to enter careers because of their lower socioeconomic statuses, yet we were told we can be whomever we want to be. We were raised in a country consisting of limitless opportunities generations before us never had.
When I talk to my peers, there is a commonality among their desired professions: We all want to help. We want to provide. We want to improve the world around us so it can be a little kinder and a little more generous. Their fields vary between Creative Writing and Family Studies and Nursing and Physics and Sports Administration, but they all want one thing: They see room for improvement, and they want to heal that wound.
President Obama spoke directly to us last night, fellow Millennials:
“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”
I’ve seen it too. I’ve seen it when it has been raining and dark and cold and sweltering and humid, but you wanted to help elect officials who you thought would help better this country in ways you saw fit. I saw it when there were thousands of you standing in line to watch candidates who were touring college campuses, and you didn’t care about the weather conditions because all you cared about was showing your support. I saw it when my friends began taking an interest in politics—not for partisanship, but rather, for the issues that mattered most to them. We want that inclusive society. We want to lend a hand to our neighbors. We want to spread love and kindness.
Yes we can.
Yes we did.
Thank you, President Obama.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.