An open letter thanking Obama on his last day in office
January 20, 2017
Dear President Obama,
To be honest with you, it’s a really weird feeling that you’re not going to be the president. My president. The president who moved to Washington the same year that I too finally settled in the District–you from Chicago and me from Seattle. We had so much in common: we were young, gleaming with aspirations, desperately wanting to change the world for the better. So we took on the East Coast together, ready to prove ourselves worthy.
Washington Outsiders peeking in
Our first few months were difficult: I was adjusting to my fourth school in three years, and you had to get the U.S. economy out of a recession. You faced criticism from every corner, while sometimes I sat in the corner alone, thinking about home. As you and your family knows, Mr. President, moving takes quite the toll.
But we got out of our slumps: I started to find a groove in Bethesda and you started finding your economic-policy mojo across district lines. By year four of your presidency we had both learned how our government worked (me from my U.S. Government class and you from trial and error). Once I mastered that, I moved onto other governments—and the history of it all, instituting in me a lifelong passion for government, politics, and public service.
Growing older, gaining perspective
Meanwhile, we traveled to many of the same places, and our experiences in those places transformed who we are today. We went to Robben Island and felt the pain of South African apartheid, a torturing memory for a beautiful, rainbow nation trying to establish itself as a fruitful democracy, just like us. We went to Beijing, and immersed ourselves in the culture of the economic superpower of the future. We learned from those raised in environments different from our own, and embraced what we had in common. We gained perspective, and learned to keep things in perspective, and above all, made friends that may well last a lifetime.
It was in that moment of sheer dejection, frustration and fear that I understood the magnitude of your policy
Perhaps one of the biggest perspective-providing moments of the last eight years was not when I was abroad, but at home—in your old home. It was the moment I felt most affected by your policies—if not directly but indirectly. It was during my first week of college. College in your city, Chicago, and your neighborhood, Hyde Park, and your wife’s hospital, University of Chicago Hospitals. I lay in a hospital bed on the first Friday night of my college career, struggling with a Type I diabetes diagnosis I had only learned of earlier in the morning. Since then, I’ve learned to live with the disease, and most of the people I meet these days have no idea what transpired two autumns ago. It wasn’t until last week, when I went to the pharmacy and left empty-handed after being told for the first time in my life that insurance couldn’t pay for my prescription, that my eyes were opened to something a lot of us want to ignore. It was ultimately a mistake, but for those few days immediately following, I felt the immense burden of someone without access to healthcare—healthcare that you helped people have better access to, and that this new “president” has promised to eliminate. It was in that moment of sheer dejection, frustration and fear that I understood the magnitude of your policy.
Where we stand today
Over the last eight years, we’ve faced our fair shares of adversity. We’ve established policies and acted in ways that may not have always been popular, and at times even regretted. In spite of our mistakes we grew, and we learned from our mistakes. Throughout it all we led, we followed, we spoke, we listened, we taught, we learned, all with one overarching goal that trailed us like your secret service—never overbearing, but always illustratively present—to make the world better.
Here we are now, eight years later, and I’m no longer the new kid from Seattle. We’re both Washington insiders, for the best and for the worst, at the center of it all. In the end, we both changed a lot: I’m a foot taller, you’re a shade grayer, and we’re both hopefully a bit wiser. But I’m scared and you’re scared: scared of what the future holds for ourselves and for our country.
Over the last few months, I’ve had fears that the newly elected president would take away some of my closest friends’ right to marry, though thankfully, that’s off the table. But there are other things that still could happen. I’ve worried that my classmates may not be able to live in this country anymore, and receive this remarkable education I am so privileged to have. I am desperately afraid that the new president will try to register my numerous friends who practice Islam–one of the most beautiful religions I have ever had the privilege to study–marking and numbering them by computer as my people were by tattoo in Germany 80 years ago. I see hate crimes at my elementary school, targeting me and my friends, and I, a white man with means, do not feel safe in the slightest in this country.
Where we go from here
But I will not give up, Mr. President. I will not let words of hate, bigotry and intolerance shape this next generation.
Your words are the reason I have a tenacious desire to make a difference, to do something that matters
It’s funny that I mention words, Mr. President, because they so defined your presidency. I subscribe to the sentiments of a certain wizard who said that words are, in his not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic: the magic needed to effect change. You always had the words—all of the words your successor seems to lack—that inspired me and every American my age to make this country the best it can possibly be. Your words that guided this country through crisis upon crisis and helped us celebrate our greatest victories. Your words are the reason I have a tenacious desire to make a difference, to do something that matters. Now it is up to me, my generation, my words, and the words of this generation to carry on your legacy of service, empathy, and love.
I want to thank you, Mr. President, for inspiring me to do something meaningful. I’m not sure what that thing is quite yet, and if any of your friends have any ideas, let me know. Sometimes I’m not even sure I have whatever I need to do it in me. But I will never stop trying to help people, because you made it your life mission, and you inspired me to do the same. Mr. President, you not only made this country great again, but more importantly, you gave me hope that as Gandhi said, I could be the change I wanted to see in the world. Now I just need to find the words—and the means of carrying them out.