Obama’s final speech instills ideas of change

By Clarissa Hinshaw

DeKALB — With President Barack Obama’s term coming to an end, students and faculty interested in leadership and activism are paying attention to his final words.

Obama delivered his farewell address at 8 p.m. Jan. 10 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The speech has been a tradition carried out by presidents since George Washington’s presidency, according to Associated Press. Obama has served as president for eight years, but his term will come to a close on President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday.

In his speech, Obama delivered an optimistic approach toward the state of America. He advised and addressed upon the difficulty of creating change in a divided society and encouraged people to act in the midst of injustice.

“[Change is] not easy to do,” Obama said. “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, surrounded by people who share the same political outlook. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.”

Students and faculty alike paid attention to these words as they watched the address. Campus leaders, faculty and students interested in activism were able to apply some of Obama’s ideas to their own lives.

Faculty reflections

Scot Schraufnagel, Political Science Department chair, thought Obama’s call to action was well conceived. He said it is difficult to predict how these words will affect the people, and it would depend what Obama does after his presidency.

Schraufnagel agreed with Obama’s explanation of today’s political culture. This is a common issue studied in political science, according to Schraufnagel. He said, according to controlled experiments and other research, people often socialize with like-minded people.

“The best place for political conversations to take place is in the workplace,” Schraufnagel said. “On the job, you’re forced to interact with people that you may not agree with.”

Schraufnagel advised students who want to make a difference to get involved in organizations on campus. He said they should join interest groups and find ways to lead.

NIU Democrats

For NIU Democrats President Jon Madison, Obama has been a role model on how to create a common goal for a community.

Having grown up in an Iowan hometown full of Republicans, Madison knows the importance of Obama’s words about talking to people with differing political views.

“Everyone that I knew growing up voted for Trump,” Madison said. “My views are a little bit more common up here [near Chicago]. Whenever I go back home, I have to be able to communicate with those people.”

Madison agrees with Obama about the importance of people stepping out of their social bubbles, creating empathy and taking action, which is something he thinks Hillary Clinton, former Democratic presidential nominee, lacked in her campaign.

“You have to make sure your opinion is heard, but you have to do it respectfully,” Madison said.

Student leader reflects

Senior Physics major Alex Forgue has been involved in many campus organizations including the Society of Physics Students and Prism. Forgue thought watching Obama’s speech was emotional for many people with the incoming Trump presidency but that it was also a good reminder that positive change in America is possible.

Although he supported Bernie Sanders, former Democratic presidential candidate in the 2016 election, Forgue was able to find common ground with some Trump supporters and was surprised to find that they agreed on some issues. He thinks the best way to create change is to stay involved and informed, talk to leaders and find ways to lead.

“Change is hard but comes from the people,” Forgue said. “I think the most important thing to take away is no matter who is in the White House, Trump or Obama, change comes from organizing from the local level, and that is what we need to do.”

Clarissa Hinshaw is a staff writer. She can be reached at

[email protected].