President Obama's long-awaited return to the public eye came in the form of an informal speech at the University of Chicago on Monday. Publicized as a "Conversation on Civic Engagement," Obama moderated a discussion between several Chicago students in what was meant to serve as a warm-up for events of a larger scale down the line. It wet the appetites among those who have called for him to lead the resistance against the Trump administration, surely, but a select few quotes from Obama's Chicago speech served as a timely reminder of the former president's charm and oratory skills, and further highlighted the huge disparity between the him and his successor.
On stage, Obama reminisced about his path to political life, as well as his role in preparing the next generation of Americans to lead the country. He expressed his confidence in young Americans — "[they're] a lot more sophisticated than I was at that age," he noted — and spoke to the students about civic engagement and community organizing.
Predictably, the former president said nothing about his successor, instead maintaining his focus on the role that private citizens, whom he has join the ranks of, can play in politics. The panel seemed like a deliberate attempt to set the tone for Obama's role in the resistance — less as a vocal critic of President Trump, as many wish he would be, than a guiding light for the next wave of leaders to take on that task.
The panel's discussion was enlightening as it was hopeful, and these seven best quotes from his speech — from America's future to selfies to marriage advice — will likely be welcomed by those who've been waiting for a sign of life from Obama.
1. "The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world."
2. "If you had pictures of everything I had done when I was in high school, I probably wouldn't have been President of the United States. So I would advise all of you to be a little more circumspect about your selfies... own your life and your mistakes."
3. "I learned that in marriage, by the way. Just a tip for all you young folks... listening to understand, not listening to respond — that'll save you a lot of heartache and grief."
4. "Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do... Some people may succeed in chasing that goal, but when they get there, they don't know what to do with it."
5. "Because of changes in the media, we now have a situation in which everybody's listening to people who already agree with them, and are further and further reinforcing their own realities to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then try to find common ground and move solutions forward."
6. "The one thing that I'm absolutely convinced of, is that yes, we confront a whole range of challenges, from economic inequality and lack of opportunity to a criminal justice system that too often is skewed in ways that are unproductive, to climate change, to issues related to violence — all those problems are serious, they're daunting, but they're not insoluble. What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life."
7. "I had been encouraged everywhere I go in the United States, but also everywhere around the world, by how sharp and astute and tolerant and thoughtful and entrepreneurial our young people are."