The world has been in a constant state of shock for 70 days and even though most of us probably still can’t quite wrap our heads around it: Donald Trump will officially become President of the United States of America in less than 2 days. With the Obama era coming to an end journalists from all over the world have been putting their feelings about the last eight years into words. The internet is full of emotional and sometimes lofty articles about Barack Obama’s presidency, his wife Michelle’s legacy and melancholic reviews of the impact the first African American family in the White House had on their nation and on the entire world.
There is absolutely no need of another article talking about how Mr. Obama winning his first election back in 2008 changed the world, how his success encouraged women and men, boys and girls to follow their dreams and engage in their future and as a white girl from the German middle-class I am in no position to praise or question Obama’s influence on the ongoing racial issues the United States and most countries in this world face on an everyday basis. Nevertheless, this man had a huge impact on my life and my personal growth and I would like to try to put into words how his presidency shaped me.
I was only 17 years old when I first got to listen to a speech by the African-American presidential candidate with the funny name. I had been growing up in a tiny town in southern Germany, raised by privileged parents, never having to worry about my education, money or my future. Still, at the age of 17 life was not particularly easy for me: I had just entered senior class and found myself at that inevitable crossroad, every teenager has to face at some point. To make a long story short: I was desperately looking for answers to the most basic questions in life: Who am I? What values do I stand for? What do I believe in? What do I want to do with my life?
Since I was going to graduate in English studies, I had to fully engage in the election battle John McCain and Barack Obama fought in 2008. I spent nights watching debates, reading articles about both candidates, devouring Obama’s book Dreams from My Father and gathering as much information as I could about the complicated US political system. Let’s be clear here: I was an unexperienced, naive and ignorant kid, had no clue about politics, no idea about the financial crisis that had been rocking our world since 2008 and foreign policies left me more than just a little bedazzled. Whenever Obama and McCain debated about these crucial topics I couldn’t do much but listen and wonder who had the better solutions for the massive problems the United States and the global community faced at that moment in time. In conclusion, I would have to lie to talk to you about how Obama’s political ideas rocked my world. Still, this presidential candidate, who became the 44th President of the United States in January of 2009, shaped my core values and had a massive impact on the person I am today.
It was neither Obamacare nor his view on foreign policies in the Middle East that left their mark on me, but rather his essential sense of community, the idea that every single person is obliged to do his part in order to make a democratic society work. All of a sudden I understood that you don’t necessarily have to be a head of state or hold any sort of power to make an impact. Speaking up for others, engaging in a political discussion, giving back to your community and standing together with like-minded people is something that even an ignorant 17 year old could easily do in her everyday life. Soon I realized that if I wanted to live in a society that treated everybody equally, helped people that could not defend themselves, supported gay rights and secured religious freedom, I had to contribute my part and not chicken out of my responsibilities as an enlightened citizen.
9 years have gone by since I first met Mr. Obama on the TV screen. 9 years in which I sometimes sat in front of the television cheering, for example when he condemned US gun laws, shook hands with Raúl Castro and called gay rights “human rights”; but I could easily name many things about his term in office that I didn’t agree with such as the way he handled Edward Snowden and the awful situation in Syria. People are not perfect and neither was this president who could not live up to all the expectations. At the age of 25 I am very well able to understand that Barack Obama was not the person who invented the values mentioned above and as a journalist I am trained to constantly question what politicians want to achieve with the words they carefully choose for us to hear. Obama’s impact on my young self was not about the originality of his ideas and the trueness of his words, it was simply about him saying them to me at a time in my life when I desperately needed to hear them. He initiated a process in my head that led me right to the person I am today: a democrat, a dedicated citizen, someone who speaks up when she views injustice and a independent journalist and writer. During that process I finally got to answer all the burning questions in my mind. At the age of 25 I know who I am, I know what my core values are and what I believe in and I want to spend the rest of my life telling other people’s stories so that we call all learn from each other’s experiences. Less than two days before the end of his presidency and the beginning of something I still don’t want to believe, there is only one thing I have to say to Barack Obama: thank you, Mr President!