After what seemed like a regular day at school for a sixth grader, I found myself watching the presidential election as if my favorite cartoon had been canceled and replaced with something even better. With my eyes glued to the television screen and my ears wide open, I saw the face of hope and heard the voice of change in a man I had never met.
I had only turned 13-years-old the day before, however, I knew that Nov. 4, 2008, would be a day unlike any other. From the way he spoke of unity, to the way the crowd roared for humanity, I knew that I was watching history unfold. Barack Obama was more than just a caricature of progress; he was a man who inspired an entire generation and worked to change the world.
But the inspiration that countless drew from President Obama goes beyond the complex day-to-day responsibilities held by the highest office in the land. Students like Glo Brown, 21, child development major, felt that simply seeing him in office was one aspect of how he changed the world.
“I think it was really important to see our first black president, for people to see and know that representation does matter,” Brown said.
However, she also felt that others felt that President Obama could have done more for specific communities.
“Throughout his presidency, he did some things that were really cool, but one critique that I’ve heard from others is that he didn’t do anything for black people specifically,” Brown said. “And I understand that, but I think it was really hard for him to focus on that when he had to repair a lot of the things that happened under the previous administration.”
The Complexity of Policy, Presidents, and People
The populations President Obama impacted were as diverse as the United States, with hundreds of thousands being affected by his executive orders and administrative policies. Students like Lupe Tinoco, 23, sociology and ethnic studies major, also felt the duality of his role as president.
“Looking back now, I am conflicted on his presidency because he was the first African-American president and there was a lot of issues that his administration advocated for, like DACA and supporting undocumented students,” Tinoco said.
While many feel that President Obama made a strong effort to bridge the disadvantages that undocumented immigrants face, there is no denying that more people were deported under his administration than any other president at 2.5 million. Despite the strides that were made, he will be remembered as the “Deporter-in-Chief” to many immigration groups.
“These types of programs were really positive, but you can’t ignore the fact that his presidency did have a lot of deportations,” Tinoco said. “But also, he’s a complex individual. I’m not excusing the things he didn’t do, but also acknowledging that he’s human and that he couldn’t do it all. I think that’s okay, as long we keep trying to achieve and create positive change. He was definitely a persona of that, to keep fighting the good fight.”
Humor and Charisma in the Highest Office of the Land
The complexities of President Obama’s administration and policies will undoubtedly go in the history books to come. Aside from the politics, however, is his charisma and altruistic character that many will remember.
“He’s really personable, he still jokes around, he’s not this imaginary leader in the top of the sky that you can’t reach,” Brown said. “One in thing in particular that happened recently, Malia and Sasha’s playground with a swing set, they put that in a youth center in Chicago. It used to sit outside of the White House, but instead, they chose to donate it. I thought that was really cool.”
Others felt that his sense of humor was critical in showcasing his leadership, a huge difference compared to the short temperament of Donald Trump.
“When he made that Saturday Night Live sketch, ‘Thanks, Obama.’ He was a very charismatic individual, he was a funny guy, and I think that was one of my favorite moments throughout his presidency,” Tinoco said.
Exit Stage Left: verb. To exit or disappear in a quiet, non-dramatic fashion.
Following the graceful exit of President Obama, and with the election of a president whose values represent a different narrative of the United States and what it stands for, I find myself reflecting on the stark differences between the two. Where one empowers the people and celebrates diversity, the other dehumanizes and hates what makes America great. For his leadership, and commitment to progress, despite all impediments, I thank President Obama.