“So, uh…what’s been going on since I’ve been gone?” quipped President Barack Obama as he addressed a room full of young people at the University of Chicago. President Obama was there to moderate a civic engagement panel that was comprised of high school students, college students, and young leaders. This was his first public address since leaving office in January. Obama looked rested, melanated, and relaxed. At the top of the event he addressed the excitedly nervous crowd of young people, relaying his story of finding his purpose through public service. He talked briefly about his successes, his failures, the moments of uncertainty, and the moments of inspiration. He went on to say that he has set his post-presidency sights on mentoring the next group of leaders. “I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job, and what I’m convinced of is that, although there are all kinds of issues that I care about and all kinds of issues that I intend to work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help, in any way I can, prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world,” Obama explained.
Obama also talked about how gerrymandering, special interests, and the newly politicized media have aggravated the country’s worsening divide. “The internet in some ways has accelerated this sense of people having entirely separate conversations,” Obama said. “If you’re liberal, then you’re on MSNBC. If you’re a conservative, you’re on Fox News.”
He also imparted some wisdom on the young people concerning behavior in this age of social media. “If you had pictures of everything I’d done in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been President of the United States,” Obama said. “I would advise all of you to be a little more circumspect about your selfies and what you take pictures of.”
Obama engaged with the students as they shared their experiences in public service and/or politics. While I’m sure the youth hoped Obama would give them the blueprint to solving the world’s problems, instead, he encouraged them to find their own way in changing the world around them. “Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about you want to do,” Obama said.