I love Barack Obama. He is first on my list of personal heroes, and one of the proudest moments of my life was casting my first-ever presidential ballot for him in 2008. The internet has been awash in Obama thinkpieces and retrospectives, and I have no interest in reiterating what other people have already said more eloquently. But I can talk about what he meant to me.

My first memories of the political world were the Monica Lewinsky scandal, about which I knew nothing save that the President had cheated on his wife and might be impeached. Next came the 2000 election—a lot of talk of Florida and recounts and hanging chads. After that was the terror of the Bush years, culminating in the worst economic crash since 1929 and governmental approval rating in the teens.

Suffice it to say, my formative years were not kind to public service. And yet here I am, less than six months from graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Administration and continuing my career as a public servant. The reason is Barack Obama.

Obama showed me that loving your country doesn’t preclude working tirelessly for its improvement. “What greater form of patriotism is there…he said in his address in Selma, “than the belief that America is not yet finished, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?” Obama’s acknowledgement of our imperfect union revolutionized how I thought about public service.

Obama showed me that you can be a politician and a person of upright character and moral probity. His sense of justice and of right and wrong was clear in everything he did—his clear and obvious adoration of his wife and daughters, his considerate and thoughtful approach to governance, his remonstration of supporters for heckling a man with a Trump sign. He also ran a scandal-free administration, an accomplishment which will be especially remarkable in retrospect.

Obama showed me that the tactics of your opponents do not determine your response. Through unprecedented[1] partisanship, obstructionism and disrespect, he represented his office and his country with a grace, dignity, and intelligence that we will all come to fully appreciate before too long. Time and time again, he refused to stoop to the level of his opposition and doggedly continued fighting to improve the welfare of the American people.

Obama showed me what politics should be—a profession through which citizens of conscience can improve people’s lives. He protected tens of millions of people by giving them affordable access to healthcare, guided the country out of the depths of recession into the longest stretch of uninterrupted job growth in history, signed a seminal climate agreement, normalized relations with Cuba, brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The country, and the world, is better off for him having been president.

Thanks, Obama. Thank you for everything you gave for our nation, but also for me personally. I am fired up, I am ready to go, and I will continue working to live up to your example. You will always be my president.

[1] If you hesitate to agree, recall that the Senate Majority Leader in 2010 stated that ensuring that Obama’s was a one-term Presidency as the GOP’s number one goal. Or that a congressman yelled “You lie!” during a presidential address. I could go on.

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