About 50 students gathered Tuesday night inside the Ford School of Public Policy, where they ate pizza and chatted as a part of the “Pizza and President Obama’s Farewell Address” watch party organized by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats.
Though students in attendance said they were disappointed by the outcome of the 2016 election, many pointed to the importance of continuing to band together as a party. Public Policy junior Rowan Conybeare, explained the importance of continuing to fight for progressive ideals, even though the election results did not occur as she had hoped.
“(I) worked on Hillary's campaign so we obviously thought tonight would be a little bit more exciting,” Conybeare said prior to the speech. “But I think (in Obama’s speech tonight) that he will create this picture again of hope for the future, and just that even though we didn't get the presidential outcome that we want, we can still fight and we can still band together.”
Also prior to the start of the speech, LSA junior Ellen Endres echoed this statement, expressing her belief that Obama would deliver a strong farewell address.
“I really expect him to give the speech with the same amount of grace and intelligence that he’s carried out throughout his campaign,” Endres said. “I’m really not expecting anything less tonight.”
As President Barack Obama took the stage at McCormick Place in Chicago and began his speech, murmurs of “this is the last one” echoed throughout the room and faded into silence. Some students in the auditorium pulled out tissues to wipe away tears.
Obama framed most his address around urging his listeners to respect all American citizens, and fighting against the political division caused by issues such as terrorism, economic crisis and race relations. He said Americans must respect one another as equals and work to empathize with the immigrants coming into the country.
“So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder,” Obama said. “We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do, that they value hard work and family just like we do. That their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.”
The president also encouraged Americans to not be complacent and to exercise their full rights as citizens in a democracy.
“So you see, that's what our democracy demands,” Obama said. “It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.”
LSA junior Collin Kelly, College Democrats chair, said he thinks all of Obama’s speeches have been remarkable, including his farewell address. He explained he was sad to see his long-time role model leave office, but said he found Obama’s words both empowering and inspiring.
“He has a sense of optimism about the country that's inspiring and that's really all we can say about it because he makes us want to keep working hard to fight for the values that we believe in and that definitely accomplished it,” Kelly said. “It was bittersweet for sure to see someone that we all grew up with as our president, someone that we all adore and look up to as a role model, it’s sad to see him go in his final speech as president, but he left us with words to continue living and fighting by.”