By Josh Hughes
Eight years ago tonight, nearly 400,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall for President-Elect Obama’s first inauguration concert. Across the country, millions watched the massive event, featuring musical performances by Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, U2, and Beyoncé. Collectively, they held their breath, as they awaited the prospect of a new president; young, progressive, and for the first time ever, not white.
I held my breath too, as I sat at home, a sixth-grader in small town Iowa. I was young, and didn’t know much about politics, but I knew that I believed in the new President. I knew that I could trust him, and that he truly loved our country. It was this charismatic young Senator that sparked an interest in politics for me, a path I have followed as it transformed from hobby to career.
Yet tonight, many Americans are holding their breath once again. After eight formative years with a president and first family many have grown to love, Americans like me now are faced with the prospect of a successor who seems to trample on the very principles that elevated Barack Obama to the presidency. We’re holding our collective breath, unable to breathe in shock and disbelief that the same country that elected its first African-American president would be able to elect the man who relentlessly, unapologetically questioned his very citizenship. We’re holding our breath as we struggle to take in the idea of a nation so divided that even basic institutions of our pluralistic society are now questioned. We hold our breath because it’s too painful to think about the future that we might’ve built, together.
But mostly, we’re holding our breath to hold back the tears. For the past eight years, President Obama has provided steady, informed governance for our nation. But for millions further, he has represented something more: a moral compass and example of compassionate leadership. President Obama is the only president I’ve ever known, and I’m not alone in saying that I will miss him immensely for so many reasons.
For standing up for people like me, and ensuring that I’d have access to quality healthcare and preventative coverage, I’ll miss President Obama. For fighting hard to make college a reality for me and expanding educational opportunities for all students, I will miss President Obama. For telling me, a scared and confused eighth grader that it does get better, and that I’m worthy of love and every opportunity in this world, I will deeply miss President Obama. For being an example of perfect class in the most stressful situations and under the most unfair scrutiny, I will miss President Obama. For showing me how to face bigotry and oppression, I will miss President Obama. For being a president that advocated for all Americans, I will so miss our President.
As this country says goodbye to President Obama, I know it in my heart that history will be kind to this administration. As I individually attempt to say goodbye to a man whom I’ve never personally met, whose lips will never speak my name, I will go on living my life holding fast to that sentiment I, and so many others, felt eight years ago tonight: hope. That quiet reality—that audacious hope millions will hold to forever—is what separates the good men, the average presidents, from the great. Suffice it to say, our President will not live out his days thinking of me. But I will never forget my President, Barack Obama.
(All photo credits Pete Souza, White House photographer)