By TONIA HILL
After serving two terms in office, President Barack Obama said goodbye in an emotional farewell address to the nation, Tuesday evening, Jan. 10, at McCormick Place, 2301 S. King Drive Ave.
On Saturday, Jan. 7, people began lining up before sunrise and braved the cold for hours in single-digit temperatures to try to get a free ticket to Tuesday’s farewell address.
About 18,000 people filled McCormick Place on Tuesday night to hear from the President, who landed at O’Hare International Airport just after 5 p.m.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Malia Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, joined the President in Chicago. Sasha Obama did not attend the event because she had to be at school Wednesday morning for an exam, according to the White House.
Before heading to McCormick Place, the President sat down for a one-on-one interview with NBC Nightly News Anchor, Lester Holt, at Valois Restaurant, 1518 E. 53rd St.
Valois Restaurant offered free breakfast for customers from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and then closed the restaurant for the remainder of the day.
Passerby’s waited outside of Valois in the hopes of seeing the President and his motorcade come down 53rd Street.
Obama gave what many viewed as an emotional and heartfelt speech to the nation. He expressed gratitude and optimism about the future of American democracy and the country.
According to the President, democracy is dependent upon all citizens working together.
“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity,” Obama said. “Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
Obama said inequality and demographic change are mechanisms that have challenged democracy over time, “And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland; In other words, it will determine our future.”
While the nation has made progress over the last few years, Obama said it is not enough. When Obama took office in 2008, the nation was in the midst of a widespread economic recession. The unemployment rate reached its highest level in over 14 years, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
“And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now,” Obama said.
The President also pointed to race relations in the nation as another threat to democracy. He said while things have improved and are better than they were 20-30 years ago, race remains a potent and divisive force.
“So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own,” Obama said.
Obama also called on the next generation to let their voices lead the changes that they wish to see.
“If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing,” Obama said. “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose.”
The President gave a heartfelt thank you, to his wife Michelle and his two daughters Malia and Sasha.
As he spoke to his wife Michelle, Malia who was sitting right next to her, started to cry.
“You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor,” Obama said. “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. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud.”
Obama also thanked Biden and his wife Jill for their service.
Toward the end of his speech, Obama said he remains hopeful for the future of the nation.
“This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country,” Obama said. “You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.”