Farewell, Mr. President

On November 4, 2008, I stood in a line for three hours outside of the UCF Arena. Going to college in Orlando I went to Disney World a lot, so waiting in line was nothing unusual, but I couldn’t have imagined anything like this. It was as if every student on campus came to this place to do the exact same thing at the exact same time, and the line was only getting longer by the minute. It was only in the mid-fifties but to us Floridians this was practically frigid. Inching closer and closer to the door as my fingers froze over I never once thought about leaving. This was too important. When I finally got inside I was placed in another line for forty-five minutes to wait for a packet of paper and a blue, plastic booth where I could fill it out privately. When I was done, I handed the paper to a woman standing in front of lockboxes and she handed me a sticker. That piece of adhesive gave me more pride than anything else I had ever owned or done. It was my trophy for waiting in that exceptionally long line and I saved it until the day I graduated.

On November 4, 2008, I cast my vote, my first ever vote in a United States election, for Barack Obama.

I think about that day often. Even now, as I write it out as a sentence I have to pause. I’ve been politically active for as long as I can remember, paying close attention ever since Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign in ’96. I found a passion for politics in 3rd grade when my class held a mock election for Virginia’s Governor using the real candidates, and I gave an impassioned (but ultimately defeated) speech for the Democrat (current Virginia Congressman, Don Beyer) . I’ve watched every State of the Union address since 1999 and have seen my own views shift from liberal to conservative and back again as I grew. But that frigid day in November eight years ago is one of the most important in my life. That was the day I cemented my political identity.

It’s a little strange to say that I dreamed of the day I would get to vote for president, but saying anything to the contrary would be a lie. I had looked forward to that moment my entire life, or at least for as long as I knew voting was a thing. Even stranger is that I remember the day I learned that fact — my mom took me with her to Godwin High School in Richmond, her polling place, to vote in (what I now know was) the 1994 midterm elections, and explained to me the process, who and what she was voting for, and why. I’m aware that I was raised in an unusually political family but it’s moments like this that made me confident in my own political convictions, even at the age of 5. But that I got to cast my first vote as a United States citizen for Barack Obama? That is something I will always hold dear.

I do really feel sad for the younger millennials whose first general election experience is 2016. Not because I think that both candidates were terrible (not even remotely true — #ImStillWithHer), but because 2008 had a rare quality. Back then we had a true, forward-looking movement to vote for in the general election. This isn’t always or even usually the case, but to people who lived through it but were too young to vote THAT was their first experience with politics. Not their parents dragging them to the polls and painstakingly explaining the complicated political process, but watching a tidal wave of emotion (and, frankly, reason) grip the country they love. It’s why most of my generation supported Bernie Sanders.

Obama has meant a lot to me. I’m not anywhere near ready to say goodbye. Tonight, I watched him give his final speech as the President of the United States, and before it was over my eyes were welling up. We’re moving towards a much more frightening future than we were this time eight years ago, but I think many of us forget that we were scared then too for different reasons. After his victory, Barack gave a rousing speech that was a flashlight into the darkness of uncertainty. He showed us the way to make America great and to create a nation for all people, regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or worldview. He gave us a roadmap for the days, months, and years to come.

Tonight, he did the same thing. How far that light will carry us, however, is on us. I know I am not the only person concerned for the future of America, but I am ready to pick the torch back up and fight for the nation that I know and love. I wasn’t sure how I would feel as we got closer to the impending inauguration of our next President, but our current one, for the final time in office, showed me the way again.

Thanks, Obama.