Dear President Obama,

It was about two and a half years ago — my second semester at the University of Michigan — that I first saw you speak in person. My best friend and I camped out all night in sub-30-degree Michigan temperatures, huddled together, wrapped tightly in sweatshirts and blankets, eagerly awaiting our turn to get tickets to your event. The next day, we filed through security and into the Intramural Sports Building, running on pure adrenaline and a couple shots of caffeine. While you spoke for about an hour advocating an increase in the minimum wage, I will never forget one specific line that triggered my political awareness and passion for public service. As the crowd booed your remarks on those opposing the wage increase, you responded, “Don’t boo, organize!” These words have echoed in my mind ever since. I cannot make any positive impact unless I put action to my complaints.

Throughout your eight years in office, you have put action to the complaints of millions of Americans. While there are those who wish to minimize your accomplishments as your term comes to a close, it’s quite evident that you achieved a great deal as our president. This is especially impressive considering the adversity you have faced with an often uncooperative, inflexible and fatally partisan Congress.

Because of you, “gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail,” reads a Politico article on the president’s legacy. Because of you, groundbreaking progress has been made to combat climate change, alternative energy use has more than tripled and the unemployment rate has dropped to 2.8 percent lower than it was when you took office in January 2009. And these are just a few of your achievements. What makes it all the more impressive is that you seem to face this punishing and difficult job with humility, grace and a ceaseless love for the American people.

The media recently has been obsessed with your “legacy.” My phone is constantly abuzz with notifications from news sources describing your struggle to maintain and improve upon your principal policies before your time in office concludes. They seem to think your legacy is determined solely by the durability of the Affordable Care Act or the strength of your climate change deals or the viability of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But while these and other policies are certainly a large part of your legacy, they are not everything. I want you to know that your legacy lies also within us — those of us who came of age during your eight years in office. You have helped to raise a generation of young adults committed to public service and full of hope for tomorrow. You have taught me not only that my vision for a brighter future for all is attainable, but that I have the power to make it a reality. I promise not to let you down.

In the next few days, we will elect a new president. Though we are closing your chapter in America’s history, I will cherish all that I have learned from your pages. I will dearly miss your comforting words following the numerous tragedies we have faced as a nation. I will miss your enduring optimism and hope for our country. I will miss your sense of humor, your dignity and, of course, the brilliant Michelle as first lady. While I will certainly miss you as our president, I rest assured that you will continue doing great things for the American people in the years to come.

I have spoken with numerous students recently who share my sentiments. Your presidency has inspired many to pursue careers in public policy, aspire to greatness and strive for positive change. For many students, you have proven that honesty and integrity are not signs of weakness, but rather symbols of the greatest form of strength. You are living proof that even despite considerable adversity, each and every one of us has the opportunity to thrive.

The presidency is often a thankless job, so I wish to express my deepest appreciation for these past eight years of your service.

Thanks, Obama.

Sincerely,

A Grateful Young American

Melissa Strauss can be reached at melstrau@umich.edu

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