President Obama still laughs at his own jokes.
“So, uh… What’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” he quipped as he took a seat on stage at the University of Chicago. Today marked Obama’s first post-presidential appearance since, well… y’all know. And damn was it nice to have him back.
“I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job,” he told the audience before inviting a diverse panel of high school leaders, college leaders, and entrepreneurs to join him on stage. “And what I’m convinced of is that, although there are all kinds of issues that I care about, and all kinds of issues that I intend to work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”
While the point of the 44th president’s visit was to inspire civic engagement among young folks, we know we weren’t the only ones reaching out to our computer screens in desolation when he sauntered onto stage (in a fly-ass suit and crispy white dress shirt with the top button undone, no less—we see you, Barry!)
Here are eight quotes from Obama’s appearance that had our souls aching with nostalgia:
1 “In the presidential election, you have maybe half of your peers voting. In midterm elections, about a third of your peers vote. I suspect that if you ask a lot of young people about a wide range of issues, regardless of where they sit ideologically, they would say ‘Yeah I’m very concerned about the economy, I’m very concerned about foreign policy. . .’ but a lot of them feel as if their involvement would not make a difference. . .”
2 “We have one of the lowest voting rates of any democracy. . .The only folks who are going to be able to solve that problem are young people—the next generation.”
3 “One voice by itself rarely changes something. Two voices have a better shot. 20 voices? Okay, we’re getting somewhere. But it begins with that listening process so that people feel they’re being heard.”
4 “The reason I was able to run for the United States Senate was because, in addition to my base here in Chicago, I had spent a lot of time traveling around the state, and over time, I got to know people in parts of Illinois that would today be considered red. I lucked out effectively that I was kind of under the radar screen so political ads didn’t characterize me and people would meet me even though I’m this Chicago lawyer from a liberal district with an Arab sounding name, but I’d show up and then you’d have a conversation and you talk about their kids and basketball and what was happening on their jobs, and people got a sense that my frames of reference and my values were not so different from theirs.”
5 “I think, generally speaking, immigration is a good example of an issue that stirs up so much passion and sometimes misinformation that it’s hard for us to have a good healthy conversation about it. The interesting thing is, historically, when you look at surveys, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe America is a nation of immigrants and that immigration has contributed to the wealth and prosperity and dynamism of the country. The majority of Americans also believe that immigration should be lawful and orderly. I think it’s important for those who support immigration reform and pathways to citizenship for folks who are here not to assume that everyone who has trouble with the immigration system is automatically racist. That’s an example of us being able to listen. I think for those who are concerned about undocumented workers coming in, it’s important for them to also appreciate the degree to which these are overwhelmingly families who are just looking for a better life for their children.”
6 “If you had pictures of everything I had done in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been President of the United States.”
7“Worry less about what you wanna be and worry more about what you wanna do, because when you’re more concerned with ‘I want to be a congressman or I want to be a senator or I want to be rich,’ then some people may succeed in chasing that goal, but when they get there they don’t know what to do with it.”
8“With a respect to failure, it’s terrible but necessary. If you are trying something hard, if you’re putting yourself out there in some way, there are going to be times when you don’t succeed. But that’s not just true of politics or running a not for profit. . .Learn from those failures and have a sense of resilience.”