Last night I couldn’t wait to hear what former President Obama would say to our nation of 2020 graduates. He has always, since that first stump speech, tried to provide a positive perspective on our lives. Whether people would like to simply reduce his words to only rhetoric, the fact remains they are his own, whether rehearsed or spontaneous. I think it is important to recognize how a public figure in our lives can become a Statesman, and just how much strength that gives them in respect to who they are today compared to a past life so often referenced.
I noticed on social media last night and this morning all the raves and support President Obama received after his speeches yesterday to the “graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and to the high school graduates of 2020” (Wanda Fleming Notebook). I heard people say things like, “God I miss him” or “so down to earth” as he once again put words of possibility into the young hearts of America.
The students listened, and we do all continue to listen to his words. Certainly there will always be disagreement, and I respect that; however, if done in malice then all we do is break down what anyone tries to say no matter their capacity before our lives. I think with Obama we get the true nature of a man who knows how to work a crowd, but when given the opportunity does it with character and integrity. There isn’t a wow factor in his words as much as a hope and promise. He would like people to find a way, again, to smile and realize there is much to believe in ahead of us all, young and old.
To me, those are the components of a Statesman in our country, and what is important to realize is that this person or any persons who can reach such capacity are not going away. Their words still remain, it is up to us to listen or pass off. Last night I listened.
In my life I have watched many people in positions of power become Statesmen in their next lives as we speak to everyone’s newest chapter. When President Carter left office, he was quietly ridiculed by people that were the seeming nuts and bolts of governmental machinations. He went silent into the distance, and then became the gentle giant he is today, as one of our more powerful Statesmen in the country. One of his foundations, ‘Habitat for Humanity’ has a sublime history supporting our impoverished and homeless not only across the United States and America but the World. This all happened because of the passion of a man that believed in his country, in the fellowship of man. President Carter believed in doing what is right for society, not himself.
I believe I have seen this in nearly every President that has left office after having an either illustrious or embarrassing experience as the leader of our country. I have always believed myself to have moderate views on politics, most would look at me and shout liberal, very few would imagine conservative. Maybe it has to do with the clothes I wear, the length of my hair, my own insecurity with a philosophy, but the fact is I believe in people far sooner than I do any political affiliate. I feel for the human condition long before I attach myself to any religious orthodoxy. I think our ability to remain open to everything that happens around us is a key element to surviving not only this life-changing pandemic but everything we experience in our lives.
I watched as President Nixon became a criminal in the eyes of America, and then years later began to receive acknowledgement with his prowess for foreign diplomacy despite his alleged personal perils running the country. I will not believe he passed on in disgrace, more a Statesman. President Kennedy really didn’t get a chance. I reference him only because he was the first President I experienced as a toddler. I became increasingly aware with age.
I have watched both Bushes become recognized for not simply their philanthropy but their kindness toward what we find to be our world. I never thought I would say that about either, certainly not ‘W’ but now today, I do, because I listen to who they became and have become since leaving office. Perhaps they don’t stand before a podium nearly as often as some, but when they do, their voices are heard and they are respected by everyone. Will we be able to say that about every person that leaves the most visible and powerful position of office in America? For me, that reality is what caused Obama’s words to so resonate yesterday evening.
Even Ronald Reagan left an endearing legacy while his mind struggled to pass gently into the night. The thing about Reagan is he was the same man that entered the office of the Presidency that later left. He did not attempt to make himself something that he was not.
A person does not have to agree with politics to recognize the beauty in human nature. For two decades I lived in a neighborhood of mostly conservative republicans whom today I consider close friends well beyond our political views. We can even talk about politics together without upsetting each other, undermining one another, abusing our right and privilege to exist in and around society together. I thank my family for that attitude because from the moment I could speak, I learned how to defend myself and listen to others with true passion.
I think the values that have allowed us to carve out some niche of who we are today, do evolve from listening to those speakers. They are not just ‘holding the codes’ are capable of ‘pressing the button’ on our survival or demise. True speakers in my lifetime are the one who long after their visible duties have been retired, continue to embrace a world with words of logic, of consciousness of kindness.
Last night, I believe that was President Obama’s motive, and I am grateful. During this time of confusion, hardship, fear as doors begin their opening, there are a lot of posts reflecting what life will be like when we do re-enter society. Please do not imagine for a moment that people’s struggles today are temporary. It is a frightening prospect to know what this pandemic has done to so many lives already struggling long before the outbreak occurred.
Despite fear and the unknown, the strongest belief I wish to hear day in and day out is – Be Kind.
I believe that was Barack Obama’s motive yesterday, and he wakes with the same today.
© Thom Amundsen 5/2020