In the midst of a grueling, contentious election and swift transfer of power from one administration to the other, lost is time to reflect on the past several years. President Barack Obama did just that on Tuesday night during his farewell address in Chicago. In the speech, Pres. Obama looked back on the past eight years and offered hope for the future, ending his address with the very phrase he began his campaign with: Yes we can.
I want to take a moment and reflect on the past eight years as well. Pres. Obama was the first president I can truly say energized me about politics and governing. In fact, I once thought about applying for an internship at The White House. On the evening of his first election in 2008, I wasn’t quite able to vote. I’d been following the campaign and was gutted that I couldn’t physically contribute to history. Alas, on a rainy evening in my hometown, I went with my grandma to her polling place, proudly casting my Kids Vote for Barack Obama. I’ll never forget the excitement that filled the halls of my high school the day after the election. I wore my Obama/Biden sticker that I’d picked up at the Democrat booth at the state fair that year and saved to wear if this day came to fruition. Of course I got a few sore loser comments but the majority was positive. I can also recall my English teacher, Mr. Zahn – who was undoubtedly the best English teacher I had in high school – sharing his own interpretation of the historical events that took place the night before in a way only he could do.
Fast forward to September, 2011. I’d just started my sophomore year at N.C. State when, one day, I got wind that a special guest would be visiting our campus. It was none other than Pres. Obama himself! At historic Reynolds Coliseum! I’d always wanted to, at the very least, see the sitting president speak in person. Come hell or high water, I was determined to see Pres. Obama when he visited. Many may not realize that there are often two different obstacles you have to face with events like these: (1) getting a ticket and (2) getting in.
For part one, I made the, oh I say, half-mile walk from my dorm to the Brickyard to pickup a ticket. The line for tickets began at the front of Harrelson Hall and snaked from there to the Atrium food court area all the way around to the backside of Harrelson, as depicted in a photo I took from that day. I patiently waited my turn to get a ticket but was wondering if I’d even get one period. I arrived well before the start of ticket distribution but some people had actually camped out the night before – we camp out for a lot of things at N.C. State. While I’m at it, I’ll admit that I skipped a class to stand in line for my ticket and I ain’t even sorry about it. 😛
After successfully scoring my ticket, I had to prepare myself for an early day the next day. Yea, it’s great if you can score a ticket, but that ticket doesn’t guarantee you admittance to the event. I can recall waking up while it was still dark outside – I don’t wake up at this time just for anything – and made another small hike, this time over to Reynolds Coliseum for the big event. This was the first presidential event I ever attended and I was in awe of what was going on outside the venue before we entered. Security and Obama staffers everywhere, the line of people growing every minute. It was fascinating to watch. I finally got in to a rather toasty Reynolds Coliseum – bear in mind that Reynolds did not have air conditioning at the time – and took my seat. After a good while of eagerly waiting, the moment had arrived. In walked Pres. Obama, the man I witnessed make history on Election Day just three years prior. I never had the opportunity to see the N.C. State Men’s Basketball team play a game in Reynolds but I can imagine the crowds at those games being just as loud as we were on this day. It’s a day that I will never forget, that’s for sure.
The photo above is one I snapped from my vantage point in Reynolds Coliseum that day. The quote “Dream big and dare to fail” is from Norman Vaughan and is one that I felt could tie in to not only this post but Pres. Obama’s campaign, administration and farewell address. Vaughan was a member of Admirable Richard Byrd’s South Pole excursion team in 1928. A peak that Byrd had conquered was named after Vaughan and it was then that Vaughan decided to reach the top of that peak no matter what. He wanted to “dream big and dare to fail” and he eventually met his goal at age 89. Pros. Obama took over in 2008 at a time when our country was struggling. He faithfully served the American people for the past eight years despite despicable and unwarranted criticism, a do-nothing Congress and more. He, the First Lady, Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden came into office dreaming big and daring to fail. Whether you like it or not, they have become a beloved part of our country. Look no further than the 20,000+ people who cheered, clapped and cried on Tuesday night in Chicago or that September day in Reynolds Coliseum for proof.
Yes we can. Well done, Mr. President. Well done.