I just finished watching Barack Obama’s speech in Springfield, Illinois in which he announced his candidacy for President in 2008. Since I went to college outside of Chicago, Obama has been on my radar screen for quite some time. Some of the girls at the boarding school where I worked were volunteers on his campaign for U.S. Senate. I read his first book Dreams from My Father, and am anxiously awaiting my turn with the local library copy of The Audacity of Hope. He has continuously impressed me with his fervor and optimism that, thankfully, do not seem to coexist with any sort of naivete.
As I listened to Obama speak on the steps of Illinois’ old capitol building, I was struck by his intense honesty. He meant every single word that he said. There were no feelings of, “Wow. He has a great speechwriter,” or “Sigh. What are we going to do with this country.” It was astonishing: a well-spoken and authentic politician. Who knew they existed anywhere except as examples of the word “oxymoron”?
I am excited at the prospect of Obama becoming president for several reasons. He is a very learned man, but more importantly, is well-educated in things that cannot be found in books or classrooms. He is hopeful without being ignorant. He loves his wife and children. He loves Chicago. He calls for people to become involved in their government in order to work for change, rather than to merely become fed up to the point of apathy. And most of all, he inspires the young men and women – of all races – with whom I work to an expectation that they can and will achieve more than the generations before themselves.
It is this final reason that moves me to tears. When a 14-year-old who could care less about anything beyond his iPod and Razr phone runs into the classroom to say, “Did you hear that Barack Obama might be running for president?!” – that is enough for me. To see a longing for authenticity transform into the anticipation that it might occur; to hear teenagers speak about politics and the possibility of change; to have students ask to do more work as long as it involves reading speeches given by Obama…
I can only hope that the swirling dark eddies of misery and deception that are currently sweeping through our nation do not pull Barack Obama under. And to me, that is truly heartbreaking – that my hope for a better nation must be tempered with the seeming reality of how very far we have fallen, and how difficult it is for something to change for the better in relation to the ease with which evil can sway an event, a person, or a country.