In Review: A Look Back at Eight Years Through Letters to the President
As chosen by the President’s correspondence team
“Every day I’m lucky to receive thousands of acts of hope — every time somebody sits down and picks up a pen, and writes to me and shares their story…I want you all to know that I’m listening.” — President Obama
It would be impossible to fully capture the breadth, depth, and vibrancy of the mail that has reached 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue throughout President Obama’s time in office. People reached out to share their stories, their concerns, and their hopes for themselves and for America. Messages came in through the Internet, on notebook paper, on insurance bills, on the back of family photos — even one written on the package of a military ration. They’ve helped the President and the Administration see and hear outside the bubble of Washington, D.C., and they have meant a lot to President Obama personally.
In fact, President Obama has read 10 letters a day since 2009. “It ends up being a powerful motivator for me,” he has said.
This Presidency has always been about making life better for the American people, and the story of the past eight years is theirs to tell. Some letters have really captured the progress we’ve seen, so we thought we’d share a few of them with you. Take a look:
August 4, 2016
“All of the changes in my situation started with the help and hope I received due to the “cash for clunkers” program.”
When the President took Office in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, he received a lot of mail about how the economy was affecting people throughout the country. From the Recovery Act to the “Cash For Clunkers” program, there was an early focus on rebounding the economy, creating jobs, and making sure people’s hard work paid off, and Victoria wrote in reflecting on how in 2009, participating in the “Cash For Clunkers” program was a major turning point in her life.
Marcia Murchio Hannigan
November 3, 2014
“My husband and I had a champagne toast on Saturday ‘to the President, who kept his word.’”
In 2014, the President announced a withdrawal of service members from Afghanistan, and later that year, Marcia Hannigan got word that her daughter would be coming home. She wrote to the President about what that meant to her family and about how she believed in him since the very beginning.
Erv and Ross Uecker-Walker
November 17, 2014
“After being in a committed relationship for 57 years, we will be able to be legally married on November 30th at our church…”
Adding his voice to those pushing for marriage equality, President Obama was the first sitting President to publicly support same-sex marriage. Marriage equality had been expanding state by state, and after it reached Wisconsin, Erv and Ross wrote in to share the exciting news that they would be able to get legally married after being together for 57 years. Messages like this have come in as our country has taken important steps on the ongoing journey toward LGBT equality. In its simplicity, Erv and Ross’s message gets at the heart of what marriage equality came down to for so many people across America.
October 27, 2015
“We are so blessed and lucky to have jobs and live in this wonderful nation. Who are we not to share this?”
During and after major events that took place in America and around the world, we would often see a spike in the number of messages we received. We saw increases after shootings like those in Newtown and Orlando and throughout the ongoing refugee crisis, for example. While many sent suggestions and raised important points, messages filled with compassion and offers to lend a hand to those in need poured in as well — messages like this one, from Mike Beigner. Mike and his wife were willing to open their hearts and their home to those fleeing violence and persecution abroad, and through soundbites on the news and the fear some held on to, big-heartedness like theirs shone through.
This, of course, also reminds us of the now quite famous letter from a young boy named Alex, whose big-heartedness also reached the President’s desk.
November 9, 2016
“For six years, I have had the peace of mind that my daughter could be anything and do anything she set her mind to… They were the greatest gift that one father could ever give to another.”
The President gets a lot of mail about the Affordable Care Act, and that includes many personal stories about how the ACA has affected the lives of individuals and communities. People write in about going to the doctor for the first time in decades, about how being covered kept them from losing everything they’d worked for, and even some about how catching illnesses like cancer early literally saved their lives.
Jared Ladbury wrote in about how the ACA has enabled his six-year-old daughter to get the care she needs, and he let the President know — father-to-father — just what that means to him.
Ileana R. Yarza
February 8, 2105
“I heard last night by telesur — not the Cuban broadcast news — that you will visit Havana in March. I could not be happier to hear this.”
I heard last night by telesur — not the Cuban broadcast news — that you will visit Havana in March. I could not be happier to hear this.
An American president finally taking this so much needed step, the second best one after your open admittance that the over half a century cruel embargo on this lovely, enduring and resilient little island just did not work. We Cubans believe it’s a black page on American history and geopolitics. Very sorry to say this…
Dear President Obama: I’ve followed your political career since you were running for office the first time. Then I drank to your victory at/with the CNBC Havana office that glorious night. I also celebrated your second term election with friends at home. I wish there would be a third, perhaps one day…
I’ve written you many times introducing myself. Also I have invited you to a cup of Cuban coffee at my place in Vedado, if and when you would finally come.
Please, please, do visit me. Give this 76 year old Cuban lady the gift of meeting you personally. I think there are not many Cubans so eager as I to meet you in person not as an important American personality but as a charming president whose open smile wins hearts.
Please understand I very much look forward to it.
I would also love for you to come with your wonderful, lovely wife.
God bless you son, also bless your family.
Ileana R. Yarza
President Obama’s administration has taken historic steps to abandon a Cold War-era approach to Cuba and normalize relations. He was the first President to visit the island in over 90 years, and for the first time in 50 years, mail flights between the United States and Cuba resumed in March of 2016. On that first flight was a letter from President Obama to Ileana Yarza .
July 2, 2015
“You have to try and try before you can do something great and you can never give up. I want to be like that my whole life…”
Young people have written in over the years on a wide range of topics, often sharing their thoughts and perspectives as they grow up and writing to the President about their shared desire to change America for the better. Milana wrote a letter about her passion for helping animals in her community, and her determination to make a difference came through loud and clear. The President often says how inspired he is by young people and the things they can accomplish when they work hard and get involved in issues they care about, and Milana, who wrote in about her efforts and her being inspired by President Obama, is a great example of that.
September 29, 2016
“I needed you to hear this story before your last day in the White House.”
Sometimes people write to the President to share a personal story, and this message from Joelle about her mother-in-law Peggy is one that hits on biases that have long been part of America’s history and the ways hearts and minds can change over time.
September 28, 2016
“In the moment you were abiding by your best judgement, and more importantly your heart. And this is exactly what I have wished for out of the President of the United States.”
As the President’s time in office winds down, we’ve seen more and more letters that speak to the kind of leader and man President Obama is rather than to specific policies or initiatives. Patrick Branigan shared his reflections on this Presidency and the ways it has affected him personally in a message he sent earlier this year. As it played out in his life and became real in the life of our country, Pat speaks of increasingly believing in the kind of hope President Obama spoke of on the campaign trail and held on to throughout his time in the White House.
Over the course of the past eight years, President Obama has personally read thousands of letters like these from people like you. They were right there alongside memos and policy briefings, and each night when the sun went down and the White House complex got a little quieter, he stayed up to read what people sent to him from kitchen tables, college dorm rooms, Navy ships, reservations, hospitals, and factory break rooms — from places of hope and heartache and triumph and reflection. They’ve helped inform this Administration’s work, and they affirm the belief that we’re stronger as a country when we lift up and acknowledge the stories and experiences of all our people.
Put together, the letters that arrived at the White House form a mosaic that speaks to the progress and history of the 44th Presidency, told from the perspectives and in the voices of those this office exists to serve. And we’ve never lost sight of the fact that there is power and promise in that.
We’ve been here listening all along, and on behalf of everyone here at the White House — including President Obama — thank you for writing.