Yes We Can: Your Most Memorable Moments from the Obama Presidency

Americans and people from around the world reflect on moments that meant the most to them.

The Obama White House
The Obama White House
17 min readJan 5, 2017


“Yes, we can.” President Obama spoke these three words for the first time in January 2008 in New Hampshire. And for the past eight years, these words have also served as the backbone of his Presidency and have embodied his bedrock belief that, through hard work and a commitment to hope, we can make progress possible for the American people.

As we look back at the last eight years, people from across the country (and the globe) are taking some time to reflect on a moment that inspired them to share in this belief, and even to take action in their own communities. Here’s a selection of what people have said so far. If you have a moment or memory in mind, share it with us here:

Then make sure you tune in to hear the President’s grateful farewell to you on Tuesday, January 10.

Karen from Wisconsin

President Barack Obama has lunch with Affordable Care Act letter writers at Engine Company N 3 restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 3, 2016. Attendees are Brent Brown, Karen George, Karen and Sharon Szyszko, and Susan Campbell. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

It is not in any way hyperbole to say that President Obama saved our house, saved my life, and is now helping us meet day to day expenses. So, I sent him a thank you note.

To my absolute surprise I received a personal reply. It made me feel good to know that he actually read my words and knew that somewhere out there was a family he helped in very specific ways. In early March of 2016 I was invited to share a meal with him and some other people who had benefited from Obamacare and it was one of the most amazing days of my life. In a year that many will remember as just one sad moment after another, I have an incredible memory.

Read the full story.

George from Indiana

When you were elected I had high hopes. With the economy falling apart, I saw you being strong and remained hopeful. You made the right decisions that kept our country from going into a Great Depression. I thank you for that President Obama. I just dream about where we could be if the Congress were on the American people’s side — instead of blocking every move you made. I pray you and the First Lady stay strong and continue to let your voices be heard loud and clear. You both will be missed dearly.

Leslee from Massachusetts

Dear President Obama, thank you for everything you have done, and tried to do, for our country. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, and the establishment of a task force on bullying, stands out as a hallmark of your kindness for, and inclusion of, all Americans.

Joseph from Colorado

President Barack Obama attends a Sandy Hook interfaith vigil at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn., Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

When you came to Newtown while I was still a resident of Connecticut, your empathy and support for the affected families spoke to your humanity in ways few presidents ever showed me before. The staff at the school were all students from the university where I taught. One was taking graduate courses at the time she was murdered. For me, you showed yourself as a man worthy of the office. I know you rose to every occasion whenever we needed a comforter-in-chief. I will hold you in highest regard for your humanness. Thank you.

Mary from Virginia

My son, and now I, both have health care only because you had the vision and the strength to push it through. Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons because you had the strength to push through an agreement. You overcame immense odds, bigotry both here and abroad, yet you prevailed. I didn’t agree with all of your policies, I saw opportunities missed, but much of that was the result of a Congress that worked against you at every turn. I fear for the future of our country but know that as Americans understand the impacts of attempts to unravel your accomplishments, they will increasingly see the wisdom of your eight years in office. I wish you and your family the best, and don’t stay quiet too long — the country may not be able to take it!

Randy from Arizona

Melt runoff from Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. About ten years ago, this spot would have still been part of the glacier. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Mr. President,
Your stand on climate change inspired me to champion this position in the Forest Service and in my research, writings, and on-the-ground projects. Climate change is one of the most important challenges for the world and your support has been extremely important. Even with that, there are still climate deniers even within the ranks of my agency. Please keep up your support for climate change research and legislation as you transition to private life. Job well done.

Linnea from New York

I was in Moscow as a Fulbright Scholar while the debate about the ACA raged on. When it was passed, I cried, as our daughter has a preexisting condition. The ACA allowed her to remain on our insurance until age 26, which saved us the thousands we were paying for her insurance. Thank you and may God bless you and your family in the next phase of your life.

Junnel from Georgia

I am Jamaican by birth, and became a naturalized citizen in 2005. I voted for the first time in 2008. Oh, boy was I proud! The moment Senator Obama delivered the keynote address at the DNC, I was ready to volunteer for him to become President. I was at the Miami Book Fair when Senator Obama was promoting his book! I still have the ticket!

Skip from DC

“It was a festive atmosphere as the White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. I chose this angle from several options because I like that much of the White House staff had stayed late on a Friday night to take part in the celebration.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Dear President Obama,
The greatest moment of your eight years in office for me was the night that the Supreme Court affirmed all Americans’ right to marry the person they love. My partner and I, who are not yet married but will do so soon, came to the White House to see the rainbow lights projected onto the facade of the President’s House. As a historian, I was overcome with the symbolism of the moment — that the colors signifying LGBT rights should be illuminating this historic structure. Your advocacy and leadership on diversity and inclusiveness, respect for all people regardless of their innate characteristics, and you and Mrs. Obama directing that the White House be lighted thusly on that great day in LGBT history was overwhelming to us both. It was a moment of great happiness for us. Thank you Mr. President and Mrs. Obama.

Sandra from California

President Barack Obama views a portrait of César Chávez before the César E. Chávez National Monument dedication ceremony in Keene, Calif., Oct. 8, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Creating the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument stands out. For many hours before President Obama arrived, people started assembling however most space was standing room only. To see so many quite elderly people stand patiently waiting for President Obama to speak was amazing. Elderly farm workers with tears of pride and joy in their eyes. People forgotten by those eating fresh lettuce in December, but not forgotten by President Obama. Thank you for your decency.

Judith from New Mexico

I have worked on previous presidential campaigns since the 1970s. I have celebrated when my candidate won. After an election day I hoped for the best and went about my personal work and family life.

When working for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 I learned to be part of a team. On election night 2008, the President reminded us that #YesWeCan does really mean WE! When I saw that committed and darling family on stage in Grant Park preparing to leave their home and move to DC for our USA, I realized that if I helped send them to DC I now needed to follow through with a commitment for the long haul.

That night Barack Obama reminded us that a President alone can’t bring change. Since 2009 the our OFA Neighborhood team has been meeting monthly and taking action. The joy of building community and relationships is magical and not measurable.

Steve from Missouri

President Barack Obama and staff watch the U.S. vs Belgium World Cup soccer game being televised in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, July 1, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I remember President Obama going into the press room at the White House and chanted, “I believe we can win, yes I believe” when the U.S. was playing a sporting event. His faith in our country, not only in its sports players, but in each one of us is what I will remember most.

Connie from Minnesota

As a social worker dealing on a daily basis with immigrant and impoverished families, I have seen daily the struggles of these families. With your guidance and inspiring leadership, I have been a witness to the changes with these families you have inspired. Your life has been one of example of what is possible. I thank you on behalf of these parents and children. Because of you, the country is stronger and we will miss your leadership.

William from Florida

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In 2011, I watched President Obama’s state of the Union address. A few other students and I at our dormitory huddled around a small TV. I had just applied to college, but was still trying to decide exactly what I wanted to pursue as a career. When President Obama said, “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. your country needs you.” I knew what I wanted to do. Even today, those words are still fresh in my mind. Those words put me on the path I am on today.

Marco from California

My parents are both undocumented immigrants from south of the border who traveled to California where they raised me and I am deeply grateful for them. They came here to give me a better life then what they experienced. What you did these past eight years did give families like mine the opportunity to strive for the American dream. You taught me that change can come if we work hard to make it happen and not by waiting for anybody else to do it for me. So I joined OFA as a fellow and I helped expand Medicaid to 3,000 undocumented families in Contra Costa County, California. With the help of OFA, I worked hard to make this happen. Now that you’re leaving office, I will continue that same philosophy until the day I die. Thank you Mr. President for not only teaching me this but for inspiring us to enact change no matter how rough the road seems.

Ichiro from Japan

President Obama’s inscription in the guestbook at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. May 27, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I’m writing from Japan. Mr Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was my most impressive thing last year. I was translating into English the home page of a precision screw maker in Hiroshima early last year. In the history section, the following line appeared, “6 August 1945 Our factories were annihilated by the atomic bomb.”

I was born right after the war and I vaguely remember as a small child that war debris was strewn in vacant lots, we were poorly dressed and food was not sufficient. I thought of the people who rose from the ashes to rebuild Japan. Sometime after I finished my translation, Mr. Obama came to Hiroshima. We have come a long way. A way to a better world. Thank you.

Guadalupe from Illinois

In October 2016, I was on an Illinois Lake County Honor Flight to D.C. with a group of veterans. I was a guardian, it was an honor to be part of this group — they all had wonderful stories. One veteran found his relative’s name at the Pentagon, he was on the plane that went into the Pentagon on 9/11. Another veteran was looking for his friend’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Those three days were happy as well as sad and three days just to be ourselves…memorable.

Rev. Susan from Ohio

Shortly after President Obama was elected, I was traveling near the airport in Columbus, Ohio. Air Force One was there because the President was in the city, and at the gate was an African American father holding his young son on his shoulders. I heard him say, “That’s the President’s jet, and one day, you can do just want President Obama has done. One day, you can be president!” It brought me to tears. Your time, your spirit, your work, your grace…will forever permeate this country, no matter which political party is in the White House. Thank you.

Cristina from Iowa

It was the first time I voted in America. I grew up in a military dictatorship and hadn’t been an American citizen for long. I remember coming out of the precinct, overwhelmed by feelings of accomplishment and belonging. There was something else, though. Conviction. Respect. I knew I had freely chosen a leader I would follow even if he were not the president.

A few weeks before, I had heard the then-Senator Obama speak. He asked us to knock on doors for him, make phone calls for him, fight for him. I hesitated, as I had never done anything remotely like that. My belief in him was so strong, however, that I felt called to “just do it.” My then ten-year-old daughter went with me, wearing a “Kids for Obama” t-shirt, her ponytail bouncing in the air as we walked from door to door. She didn’t even hesitate when a woman explained that, “Obama will raise our taxes.” “Why do you say that?” she asked eagerly. “Don’t you understand he will only do that for incomes higher than $250,000 a year?” Unlike me, my little girl didn’t grow up apolitical. She grew up believing that good men like President Obama were worth fighting for.

Eight years later, I feel sadness but also pride. Sure, we have a few tough years ahead of us. President Obama, however, taught me that democracy is not free. Great leaders can do little without their followers’ support and determination. Our future great leader — someone who is ready to take us back to the path of hope and social justice four years from now — cannot get elected without our help. And right here, right now, I pledge my help.

Mr. President, you may have finished your mandate, but your message of hope and strength lives on. You’ve done a lot for us. Now, it’s our turn.

Erin from Kentucky

Reading the statement from the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2013, following the Supreme Court case overturning DOMA and stating that “President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” was some of the best news of my life. My wife and I lived abroad for several years, because she was ineligible to immigrate until same-sex marriage became nationally recognized. Finally in 2013 I was able to say, “yes we can” return to the country I grew up in, live near family, and play an active role in the future of the U.S.!

Lea from South Carolina

“Following the mass shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., that claimed nine lives, the President pauses while giving the eulogy at the funeral of one of the victims, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston. Rev. Pinckney’s family is seated in the front row at lower left.” Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

After the horrific massacre of the Emanuel 9 in Charleston, I was fortunate enough to be able to be present at the memorial service in Charleston where President Obama delivered the eulogy. At the time we most needed to hear a message of unity and hope, our President delivered one of the most powerful and moving speeches I have ever heard. I will never forget those moments of hope and grace delivered in one of our darkest hours in our state. Thank you so very much.

Antoine from Illinois

The NCAA men’s basketball game between the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University tips off on board the USS Carl Vinson, docked at North Island Naval Station in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

In 2011, I had the privilege to work an Advance mission for the White House during Veterans Day. Four elite basketball programs played games for members of our beloved Armed Services on Veterans Day. President Obama, the humble Commander-in-Chief and the avid basketball fan, attended a basketball game to honor our service men and women. Seeing the mutual reverence the President had for our Military men and women and vise versa, gave me extreme pride and joy.

Christopher from New Hampshire

Members of the audience cheer as President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the American Jobs Act at Manchester Central High School in Manchester, N.H., Nov. 22, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the fall of 2011, President Obama came to Manchester High School Central in Manchester, New Hampshire, to promote several of his major legislative proposals. The President joined me in the stairwell just before I was to go on stage to introduce him. He asked me if I was nervous; “Not at all,” I replied. I had nothing but the highest regard for him and his work. Besides, I was a teacher speaking at my school in front of many of my students. I asked him the same. I think we both knew how important his ability to build connections and support was going to be.

My good friend, the band director, had the students play Hail to the Chief twice that day. Once, mistakenly, as I was announced over the roaring crowd, and then again, after I was able to convey the essence of my regard for the President’s work in 90 seconds while not being distracted by his opening remarks already displayed on the teleprompters.

As I listened to stories about the current President and the President-elect while driving to school this morning (I am now the principal at a neighboring high school), I reflected on the influence I believe this Presidency has had on the mindset and culture of our youth, particularly those of high school age. I wondered about the two pictures hanging on the wall behind my desk. One displays our school’s core values: Regard, Respect, and Integrity. To its left is a framed picture of me trying to not look at those teleprompters. I thought about the effect this election has had on our public discourse, the power of hope, and what I might say during this morning’s announcements. And I told myself, “Don’t be nervous.”

Carole from Ohio

“The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The President later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his Presidency.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama has inspired me from the time I first heard him speak in the summer of 2004, but the speech that touched my heart is the one he made after the Sandy Hook shooting. It inspired me to volunteer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where I hold, rock, cuddle, and comfort babies in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit. The more love I give to these fragile, innocent, precious babies, the more I receive. I might never have realized this if not for the President’s emotional address in response to a most sorrowful moment in our history. Thank you, President Obama.

LaQuisha from Pennsylvania

Many will argue that a president can’t and won’t affect one’s life directly. Many believe they are too far removed from our real life situations. Well those people weren’t alone in that line of thinking. I once thought the same thing until Nov. 5, 2008, when President Obama gave his acceptance speech as he was named the first African American president of the United States.

Now that accomplishment alone changed my life because it was monumental for our people (African Americans). The excitement, pure joy, astonishment, pride, and several other unexplainable emotions that African Americans shared along with others from around the world united us in a way like never before. He became a real-life symbol that we as African Americans could be whatever we wanted to be in this world despite the restrictions that have been placed upon us for hundreds of years. It was a moment that pushed us to rise up and recognize who we truly are, recognize that our abilities can stretch far beyond us and what I ancestors imagined could actually occur. Of course one man couldn’t quite change the course of the glass ceiling for people of color but this was an accomplishment for us all that caused us all to dream bigger.

​That alone should have been the moment of life saving but it wasn’t. President Barack Obama saved my life because he poured words and hope into me through a TV screen. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was in my living room of my small apartment and I was extremely depressed and suicidal due to the current state of my life and the fact that I was still suffering in silence due to my sexual assault eight years prior.

That day was supposed to be my last day on this earth. I had enough of the pain and turmoil I was experiencing and I truly believed that I was better off dead. My television just so happened to be on and as I sat in the middle of my floor contemplating how I would take myself out of here, the votes rolled in and it was announced that Barack Obama was named our 44th president. Slowly, it captured my attention. It served as a distraction from my current state. In the midst of my tears, pain and overall discuss with life and the trauma I endured I found myself on the floor crying.

It wasn’t until he took the stage and opened his mouth did things truly change for me. As he told the story of the 106-year-old African American woman, Ann Nixon Cooper who casted her vote and all she saw and endured over the years. The fact that she still had a “Yes, We Can” spirit, who was I not to have one as well? If she could endure all of that from post-slavery period to segregation, to women not being able to vote and still have hope and faith for change and the courage to cast her vote, then I should, too! He went on to say, “And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: “Yes, we can.” At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. “Yes, we can.”

​I cried my heart out thanking God for sending me the motivation and the courage to say, “Yes, I can!” His passion and belief was real, raw, and wrapped in unbelievable hope and most of all sent me the message that my voice had power. Well, eight years later here I am alive and well and doing all that I set out to do, so that others can believe that they can, too! Helping others find their voices and recognize the power that they have. I have since then found my voice and I work each day to help others to do the same through my organization, V.O.I.C.E Victory Over Inconceivable Cowardly Experiences. Not only am I alive and well, I’m a small business owner as well! Thank You President Obama for showing me what hope looked like again, for being an example and pushing the envelope on women’s rights through the Violence Against Women Act! This country is the better because of you and so am I!



The Obama White House
The Obama White House

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