President Barack Obama, whose term in office ends tomorrow at noon, once wrote that Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful,” posted about a month after Mr Obama took office in 2009, “will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
Americans, historians, politicians, and several other ordinary people will soon dump volumes of rhetoric about the Obama presidency upon us, but for me, two features were vibrant throughout his eight years:
- an uncanny ability to be a part of American culture while maintaining the dignity of the office
- a profound appreciation and love for the variety of ways Americans—and people around the world—express themselves
I’ll never forget his look of wonder as he welcomed young science students to the White House for a science fair. The picture of a young black boy touching his hair can’t be erased from our nation’s historical record. His development of a strong social media presence started a trend that has snowballed in a way any leader would enjoy.
But in the end, history will write its own book on his presidency, and the young people who will be a part of that history, now students in our schools, will tell their own story of what the first African-American president meant to them.
He and his family, though, are the best examples of Americanism many people hope are a strong part of their own lives: the work ethic more than the prize, the pursuit of improvement more than the gold medal. We’re all imperfect but can transcend those imperfections and become part of something bigger, of a nation that has welcomed great diversity.
Mr President, I look forward to seeing and hearing about your future contributions to our world, after our nation, once again, makes a transition to a new administration, elected by good Americans. It has been an honor.