Classes were just about to start on Tuesday night, but many Penn students struggled with a tough goodbye.
On Tuesday evening, President Obama issued his farewell address from McCormick Place in Chicago. After his eight years of executive leadership, Obama reinforced his message of hope, emotionally thanked his wife Michelle and referred to Joe Biden — who will soon come to Penn — as a brother.
However, in the wake of a divisive and tumultuous election, some students at Penn aren’t ready to see Obama go.
Rachel Pomerantz, College sophomore and newly elected president of the Penn Democrats, expressed her nostalgic sentiments while watching the speech.
“It was really overwhelming because it encapsulated all the things that I loved so much in the Obama presidency,” Pomerantz said. “It was thoughtful. It was inspirational.”
Despite many left-leaning students’ fears about an impending Trump presidency, Pomerantz explained how passionately she felt about Obama’s original message: hope.
“I get back to one of [Obama’s] central phrases: the audacity of hope,” Pomerantz said. “You know, it’s not bold to believe in progress while progress is happening, or while the popular majority and institutions support that progress and change. It’s bold to believe in hope when it seems like everything is going against it.”
But some students at Penn aren’t prepared to embrace the hope that Obama preached.
Stephen Damianos, a College sophomore and Daily Pennsylvanian Copy associate who had volunteered for Obama’s 2012 campaign, harbored mixed feelings during the speech — feelings that he simply couldn’t sever from Trump’s victory.
“It was a really strange mix of pride and disgust: absolute pride in being a citizen of a country that had the capacity and the strength to vote for someone who will go down in history as one of the most amazing presidents," Damianos said. "And total disgust at the fact that he is being followed by someone who will be seen as the worst."
His backpack adorned with politically charged pins, reading “Keep your tiny hands off my rights,” and “resist hatred,” Damianos lamented that, for the first time, he simply didn’t buy Obama’s message of promise.
“This was the first time that I didn’t believe him when he was offering hope for the country in the wake of, what I view as, a tragedy," Damianos said. "Although he could stand there and say that everything is great, and the state of our nation is strong, and everything is fine, this was the first time that those words did not ring true for me.”
“Because,” Damianos added, “everything is not fine.”
Wharton sophomore Victoria Brown, a Chicago native and the former political chair of UMOJA, shares a similar sense of fear at Obama’s departure from office.
“Watching Jeff Sessions get confirmed,” Brown said, “it’s hard to watch that and be hopeful. Watching Obamacare being repealed, Planned Parenthood getting shut down — it’s hard to watch that and be hopeful. You’re literally watching the things you were worried about come true, step-by-step.”
But despite a general aura of pessimism, the students said they felt that Obama’s historic legacy is undeniable.
Barry Johnson, a College senior, is a former organizer with the Clinton campaign and Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
“Watching President Obama's farewell speech, I was reminded how proud I was of our president — his accomplishments, his outstanding oratory skills and the legacy that he will leave behind.”
“It will be a legacy of inclusion, of prosperity, of beating the odds and of being ground breaking in almost every way,” Damianos added.
“So many of us, who are our age, grew up with a black president,” Brown said. “You cannot imagine what that does for representation. Someone who looks like you is the most powerful person in the world — it’s amazing what that does for your self-esteem as a kid.”
Reminiscing on her mother’s longtime connections to Obama’s political career, Brown said, “I thought, there’s nothing I can’t do because of the color of my skin.”
“But I know there were those barriers for my parents,” Brown acknowledged. “I know there was some kid who loved politics and loved law, but thought ‘OK, I have to be reasonable. It’ll never happen.’”
"For me, there may be gender barriers,” she continued. “But I’ve seen somebody that looks like me that can do it. And it’s possible that I can too.”
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