You know, I try to picture myself when I was your age. And I first moved to Chicago at the age of 25, and I had this vague inkling about making a difference. I didn’t really know how to do it. I didn’t have a structure. And there wasn’t a presidential campaign at the time that I could attach myself to—Ronald Reagan had just been re-elected and was incredibly popular.
And so I came to Chicago knowing that somehow I wanted to make sure that my life attached itself to helping kids get a great education. Or helping people living in poverty to get decent jobs and be able to work and have dignity. To make sure that people didn’t have to go to the emergency room to get health care.
And I ended up being a community organizer out on the south side of Chicago—a group of churches were willing to hire me. And I didn’t know at all what I was doing.
And the work that I did in those communities changed me much more than I changed the communities, because it taught me the hopes and aspirations and the grit and resilience of ordinary people. And it taught me the fact that under the surface differences we all have common hopes and we all have common dreams. And it taught me something about how I handle disappointment and what it meant to work hard on a common endeavor. And I grew up—I became a man during that process.
And so when I come here and I look at all of you, what comes to mind is it’s not that you guys actually remind me of myself. It’s the fact that you are so much better than I was, in so many ways. You’re smarter, you’re better organized, and you’re more effective. And so I’m absolutely confident that all of you are going to do just amazing things in your lives.
And you know, what Bobby Kennedy called the ripples of hope that come out when you throw a stone in a lake—that’s going to be you. I’m just looking around the room and I’m thinking wherever you guys end up, in whatever states, in whatever capacities—whether you’re in the private sector or the non for profit or some of you decide to go into public service—you’re just going to do great things.
And that’s why even before last night’s results, I felt that the work that I had done in running for office had come full circle. Because what you guys have done means that the work that I’m doing is important. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of all of you.
And what you guys accomplished will go down in the annals of history, and people will read about it and they’ll marvel about it, but the most important thing you need to know is that your journey is just beginning.
You’re just starting. And whatever good we do over the next four years will pale in comparison to what you guys end up accomplishing for years and years to come. And that’s been my source of hope.
That’s why over the last four years when people ask me about how you put up with this or that, the frustrations of Washington—I just think about you. I think about what you guys are gonna do. And that’s the source of my hope. That’s the source of my strength and my inspiration.
And I know that you guys won’t disappoint me because I’ve already seen who you guys are.
And you all are just remarkable people, and you’ve lifted me up each and every step of the way.
All right? Thank you guys.
—President Obama speaking to volunteers and staff, November 7, 2012