By Olivia Jordan
2008 was overall a pretty forgettable year for me. I was 10 years old, shy, clumsy, and right at the commencement of a painful six-year awkward phase. Not a lot stands out to me about that year in terms of my personal life, but one thing I do remember clearly was the election of Barack Obama.
As a 10-year-old, I was by no means a political expert. In fact, at that age the only thing I had expertise in was my knowledge of obscure facts about Adam Levine. I do remember the passion that surrounded the election. My family had an Obama/Biden sign in front of the house, as did many of my neighbors. I remember thinking this was significant as I had never seen my parents so passionate about a politician.
Around this time I had just begun my love affair with Saturday Night Live, a show that to this day is at the core of my political knowledge. From the show, I knew that Barack Obama was young, cool, and willing to make a cameo, all of which I felt qualified him for high office. On the night of the election, I remember being allowed to stay up to watch the coverage, and more than anything else I remember my parents’ happy tears. They were shocked that America had done the right thing. Even as a self-absorbed 10-year-old, I knew that the moment our first Black president was elected was a monumental one.
Barack Obama secured his place in history with his vast accomplishments over his eight years as president. Growing up, I saw significant change happen in a short amount of time. During Obama’s presidency we saw the expansion of health care, we saw love win following the fight for marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the appointment of the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice among other important “firsts” Despite the deep division that still existed in America, Obama proved himself to be someone who cared about the average citizen, someone who was open to learning from others, and someone who was willing to fight for what was right.
I got to grow up listening to Obama’s incredible speeches; some were witty, some were emotional, some were inspiring. As a public figure, his presidency was scandal-free, something completely unheard of. His family exuded class and grace, and regardless of political affiliation he was undeniably a good man. He was also incredibly cool and unafraid to sing, make dad jokes, or drop the mic. As a millennial, I care deeply about the meme-potential of my public figures, and Obama (and Joe Biden) did not disappoint.
Obama’s presidency did not “fix” the problems of America, but it seemed as if the country was going in the right direction. Obama’s presidency built the momentum towards progress. In 2016, America took several steps backwards.
Americans did not do the right thing in electing Donald Trump. I will always remember the hope, the happy tears, and the passion of 2008. From 2016, the first election in which I was able to vote, I will always remember the way my friends sat on the floor of a dorm room staring at the electoral map, hugging, sobbing, and sobering up immediately once it became clear that America did not elect our first female president. I won’t easily be able to forget my friends’ tears, which burned more than the whiskey we were drinking as they began to describe their fears as women, LGBT individuals, people of color, future journalists. The loss of hope was tangible and so painful.
It was a privilege to live through Obama’s presidency, and I’m worried about people younger than me who will grow up in a time where hatred is not only normalized, but rewarded with a cabinet position. Petty tweets will replace eloquent speeches, heroism will be attacked instead of celebrated, and basic rights will be compromised by an egotistical despot. The memes will be ruined by the suddenly legitimized alt-right, and Vladimir Putin will replace Joe Biden as First Best Friend.
Despite my fears for the future of America, I am confident in Obama’s legacy. In December 2008, my aunt gave me a pin for my birthday that I still have. The pin has a picture of The New York Times cover from the day after the election, depicting the smiling first family. My aunt gave it to me to commemorate Obama’s historic win, and it reminds me that not too long ago there was hope. Here’s hoping that our next election will be celebrated with happy tears again.