I’ve always conceded “coolness” (specifically the Zack Morris kind, not to be confused with the nerd-is-cool kind embodied by the many Screeches scurrying around in Wolverine apparel) to Ohio State University, the pseudo-alma mater of everyone in my hometown, while maintaining the University of Michigan’s superiority in almost every other category.
But not anymore. We, with our wintry complexions and oversized backpacks, just became the envy of the Ivies and Playboy Party Schools alike. We got Barack.
Maybe it doesn’t help our coolness cause that instead of a football, we’re throwing our commencement speaker in Michigan State University’s face, but I expect the electricity in the air the first Saturday in May to rival that of any football Saturday.
President Barack Obama serves as an intersection between an apathetic youth and an out-of-touch politico. Our demographic was the only age group to show a significant increase in voter turnout for the 2008 election, increasing from 47 to 49 percent according to the US Census Bureau News, with two-thirds of 18-29-year-olds voting for Obama, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement. When he won, young people around the country flooded the streets, celebrating what felt like our victory.
A year and a half after this victory — almost to the day — we’ll have the privilege of hosting the man who made the fist bump sexy(er) in our very own Big House. Leading up to this day, it’s important for us to think about why he makes our hearts flutter so that we stand before him not as the awestruck children we were before we could vote, but as critically minded young adults, conscious of the reasons behind our Obamania.
During the spring of 2008, my family Seder turned sour when I found myself pitted against my uncle and my grandma’s boyfriend, both of whom supported Hillary Clinton in the primary elections. They accused my generation of blindly supporting a man we thought was emblematic of our liberal ideals when, despite his rhetoric commenting to the contrary, he had created little change during his political career.
From my admittedly naïve perspective, this lack of political context for Obama further validated his freshness. His inexperience with a political process that has seemed lifeless and disengaged was an asset rather than a fault. To the voting demographic who most recently left the playground, Obama embodies the most essential qualities we’ve been taught to seek in a leader.
Obama is the ideal communicator — one who values listening and speaking equally. He’s smarter than me, and also more humble. He’s not bossy or a know-it-all (perhaps to a fault). He commands my respect without demanding it. He’s in touch with a kind of human component that connects him with the idealistic characteristic of youth. It’s as though he is the first major political figure who remembers all the historical wrongs he learned about in middle school and lives with an awareness of his duty to do better than what was done before.
Most of all, he has inspired a kind of social revolution wherein the typically uninvolved members of the electorate feel empowered and heard. Obama’s personal impact on the national and international communities is enough of a justification for my support of his position, both in the Oval Office and at the commencement podium.
In his promise of the possibility of something better, Obama evoked a spirit in our generation. In electing him, we made a commitment to work with him to realize that possibility. One necessary element of upholding that commitment is holding ourselves, and Obama, accountable for the transition from the passivity to activity, from dreaming to doing.
Though the strongest motivations for my support of Obama have more to do with his person than his political record, my expectations of him as the head of an incredibly burdened administration must be functional. Similarly, our expectations of ourselves as college graduates must be to create a record of progress.
A year and a half after we watched, with teary eyes, the ballots being counted, we will stand as representatives of the demographic that most uniformly supported Obama’s candidacy. And as we watch him watch us, we can remain atop the wave of idealism that carried us to the polls — as long as we do so with recognition of the importance of action in creating the change for which we all hope.
Libby Aston can be reached at email@example.com.