Dear Barack and Michelle Obama,
I wonder if you realise how far the influence of your Presidency extends? I know the President of the United States is often dubbed the “Leader of the Free World,” but your time in the White House has had a truly global reach. In my little part of England, I have been moved to tears more than once by the example that you both have set for me, for my family, for the students I teach, and for future generations.
I want to thank you. Over the past eight years, you have shown the world what it is like to behave with dignity, compassion, and humanity in public office. The first black President and First Lady in the White House, you have completed your tenure without personal scandal or revelation, with your integrity intact. This shouldn’t be a rarity, but public figures with such qualities are few and far between.
I want to thank you for your leadership. You have shown what it is to lead with vision and values, a set of principles that you articulated clearly and which ran through every aspect of your Presidency. I am sure that you will feel frustrated at not having achieved all that you wished to, obstructed by partisan division and political machination. I am sure you will be frustrated as you watch some of what you have achieved rolled back and undone by your successor. But you have borne those setbacks with equanimity and tolerance, and they seem to have strengthened your resolve, not weakened it.
I want to thank you for the example you have set as a family. I admire the care you have taken to protect your children and ensure that their upbringing was insulated from the extraordinary circumstances of your role. The fact that Sasha did not attend her father’s farewell address because she had an important exam the next day tells us everything about your priorities as parents, and the value that you place on education.
It was fitting that the First Lady’s final public engagement was at a celebration of school counsellors, and you took the opportunity to re-emphasise your commitment to the importance of education to the success of our society. You have yourselves shown what the power of good schooling can do, as it was your own education which allowed you to overcome all of the barriers and obstacles between you and the highest political office, and to speak with such authority, knowledge and wisdom on so many occasions and on so many topics.
I want to thank you for your feminism and all you have done to overcome stereotyped masculine and feminine roles in the workplace, in authority, and in relationships. In your farewell address, and on so many occasions throughout your two terms in the Oval Office, you have shown that your marriage is a partnership of equals, modelling those values that so many still struggle to live by. You took time to reply to a letter from a young girl suffering bullying because her parents were a gay couple, saying:
In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.
Our differences unite us.
I want to thank you for your humour. From Carpool Karaoke to the Correspondents’ Dinner, from your Thanksgiving dad-jokes to your Saturday Night Live appearances, you have set a new standard in political comedy – although I admit your competition is scarce. You have balanced this with the dignity you have mustered in times of unbearable tragedy and commemoration. You have shown that laughter and tears do not diminish your leadership, but enhance it.
I want to thank you for all the barriers you have broken down. You have shown people what is possible with a good education, a set of deeply held principles and values by which you chart your course, and the unconditional love and support for one another as a couple and as a family – not just in America, but the world over. You talked about the audacity of hope. But in your time as President you have shown what can be achieved by daring to hope, by daring to try, and by believing in what is possible. You have been inspiring. And no matter what follows, that will always remain.
Thank you, Barack and Michelle Obama. Thank you.