Last night, President Obama closed his farewell address with a few borrowed lines from a campaign speech he made in 2008. I know this because I have listened to this speech many times since then, in moments of doubt, happiness and when I wanted to hear a familiar, trusted voice. It’s important to remember that this speech– one that solidified the campaign message that ultimately won him the presidency– was made during a moment of unexpected loss. He had just conceded New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton.
When he took the stage, he congratulated her, and then delivered his remarks as planned. It was a rallying cry that felt almost triumphant, even in the face of uncertainty. He had not even won the nomination at this point, and was still many steps away from the White House. I have always thought that it was his words that night that stuck with me, but I now realize that it was his audacity.
In 2011, I was a nobody at a thankless job, and I finagled my way into an opportunity that I had dreamed of for years. Meeting the President and the First Lady is a memory that endures, vivid and prominent in my brain’s lockbox of prized experiences. While shaking his outstretched hand was surreal, I was struck more by the fact that he was, in fact, human, and decidedly so.
I have always been reluctant to hail people as heroes or even role models, knowing that placing those you admire on a pedestal only gives them further to fall. But for whatever reason, when he asks me to believe, I know that I will try. When he tells us that we can– we still can– I know deep down that he is right.