PHOENIX — President Barack Obama gave a farewell address on Tuesday that focused less on a reflection of his accomplishments over the last eight years and more on his vision for the nation’s future.
With just ten days left in office, Obama used his goodbye speech to lay out a road map for future administrations, reminding them to ensure democracy, establish economy opportunity and work to better race relations in communities.
“The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody,” Obama said. “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”
Obama spoke to an audience of 18,000 for just over 51 minutes at McCormick Place in Chicago, a city that the president adopted as home. First Lady Michelle and oldest daughter Malia joined him in the audience, while his youngest Sasha stayed back in D.C. for an exam she has on Wednesday.
The president spoke in a stiffer tone than what has been seen in past speeches, demanding the audience — and the nation — step up and get involved in the democratic process.
“That’s what our democracy demands. It needs you,” Obama said. “Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.”
During his speech, Obama touched on some of his successes, including reversing the Great Recession and creating jobs, but assured the crowd that they should look forward to the “smoothest possible transition” between him and President-elect Donald Trump.
“Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” Obama said. “All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”
The threats to democracy, Obama said, included unequal economic opportunity, strained race relations and contentious politics, issues that can be better solved by uniting — not dividing — the nation.
“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy, to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours,” Obama said. “Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.”
Eight years ago, Obama ran on a campaign of change — “Change we can believe in.” Looking back on his time in office, the president said the faith that he placed in the “power of ordinary Americans to bring about change … has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.”
After he addressed the nation, Obama took the time to thank some special people in the audience: His family. A normally stoic president, Obama began tearing up as the audience, Malia included, stood to give Michelle a standing ovation during his speech.
“Michelle, for the past 25 years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend,” Obama said. “You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.”
Obama then spoke to his daughters Malia and Sasha, who were 10 and 7 when they first entered the White House, calling them “two amazing young women” who are “kind and thoughtful and full of passion.”
“You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily,” Obama said. “Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.”
The president also thanked Vice President Joe Biden, who he called a “brother,” and the rest of his staff, some of whom have worked with Obama since his days as a senator.
“For eight years … I’ve drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: Heart, and character, and idealism,” Obama said. “The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you’ll achieve from here.”
Last, but not least, Obama took the time to thank the American people and remind them to keep creating positive and productive change after he is out of office.
“My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you,” Obama said. “For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president. I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.
“Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can.”
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