11 Reflections from President Obama’s Farewell Address

Posted on Jan 19, 2017
Guest Contributor


Regardless of your political stance on President Obama, he did too much, or too little, he was a lame duck or a silver fox, there is simply a non-negotiable in the conversation; he served this nation with an unprecedented sense of dignity and grace. His intellectual presence and his distinguished grace will be missed. I will not be tuning in to the 45th inauguration, instead I will be getting ready for the Women’s March on Washington and reflecting on some of the lessons learned from our outgoing 44th President of the United States.

1) You will always yearn for home. President Obama could have chosen to have his farewell speech anywhere in the country, but he chose Chicago. Regardless of where life takes you, that love for where it all started will remain. There is a nostalgic sweetness that comes with home. I’m glad he made it back.

2) "Four more years! Four more years!” The day after the Presidential election many of my students asked the question, “Can’t he run again”? Sorry, no can do. The 22nd Amendment of the Constitution limits the President to serving only 2 terms. Those cheers echoed many of our sentiments, but the amendment was set into place to prevent reoccurring Presidential terms and their ramifications.

3) Making a change starts at the grassroots level. If we truly want to live in a free society we all have to work to make a change. Do what you can with what you have – if you don’t like something; work to change it and stop waiting around for someone else to do it for you.

4) American’s exceptionality is in its willingness to change. America has gone through several transformations. As a nation, we are in constant motion and we have to figure out how to change in the right direction - a direction that uplifts our communities, all communities, and truly works for the dignity of life for all. This is the change President Obama ran on and this is the change we must continue to strive for even when he is no longer in office.

5) Take ownership of your accomplishments. President Obama has his share of nay-sayers. Many negated all he has done, so he tooted his own horn – and said, hey, we did this – we did it working together. We came in when the economy was a disaster and we pieced it back together. Sometimes it's ok to put your accomplishments out there in order to inspire others to work toward greatness.

6) A peaceful transition of power is what makes America great. Although we may not appreciate what the incoming President has said or done, the Electoral College has spoken, and peaceful transition of power will commence. This is what sets America apart from other nations in the world. Many other nations yearn for a peaceful political transfer but do not achieve it. The integrity of a democracy relies on the peaceful change of power.

7) English teachers rejoice! When will we again have a President that quotes a classic novel? A lesson from Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Try to understand the perspective of the “other”. Avoid the need for certainty at all costs. Open your mind and heart because understanding, or at least trying to understand each other’s narrative, is at the heart of our democracy.

8) A “post-racial” society does not exist. There was something about President Obama’s tone in his final speeches leading to the farewell address. Instead of the hopeful, charming, light tone of his first few years of office – his voice was weighed down with experience. Our reality is heavy with not only racial weight but also religious animosity. That is our current reality, but we can deal with it, and we will get through the next four years by organizing, by supporting each other and making sure our civil organizations such as CAIR are protected.

9) Imperfect efforts trump no effort at all. If we give up on hope, what do we really have? Combine hope with the power of the people, and we can overcome the hardships we face.

10) Demands of a citizen are not only during election cycles. There is more to being a citizen other than voting during a Presidential election. Get involved, and become part of the fabric of this nation. Taking part gives you ownership and also emboldens your voice.

11) Invest in our youth. Millennials have grown up knowing an African-American President; their President was Black. Let us invest in this generation, they really are a generation that is growing up in a complex era and need our support. On the one hand, they have grown up with a black President, on the other, they have seen a rejection of his Presidency with the ushering in of quite the opposite person. Their worldview is in limbo, and they will question the future. Let’s be prepared to have these difficult conversations.

As we bid farewell to a President who at least stood on the solid footing of integrity and decency, and welcome a new era of politics – let us gear up for a new reality. What better way to kick off this era with a day of global protest …Obama out.

Ahlam Yassin is an educator, grad student, 24/7 on-call mom and writer. Visit her blog: www.ahlamyassin.com