The first stop was Cedar Rapids. And then we went on to Waterloo. That was the first time I had campaigned as President, and I was kind of nervous. We had this huge town hall, and I don’t remember what I said. Most of the time I was just worrying about screwing up. But the same thing that I saw in Illinois I was seeing in Iowa. This was a state that gave me a chance when nobody else would.

And no matter what the national media was saying, no matter how far down we were in the polls, we’d come here and Michelle and I, we’d feel hopeful, because we had that same conversation that we had had in my first race as a state senator or my first race as U.S. senator—going to state fairs and stopping in towns and visiting VFW halls and diners and meeting people whose lives on the surface might have looked different than mine, but when you heard their stories, they were a common story.

I thought about my grandparents whose service in World War II was rewarded—when my grandfather came back from the war and my grandmother worked on a bomber assembly line—and they were able to go to college on the GI Bill, buy their first house with an FHA loan.

I had a single mom who, with the help of my grandparents, was able to send my sister and me to great schools, even though she didn’t make a lot of money. She was struggling to put herself through school and working at the same time. And Michelle would think about her father, who had worked as a stationary engineer at the water filtration plant—blue-collar job all his life. And her mom, who was a stay-at-home mom, and then worked as a secretary for most of her life.

And we thought about how far we had come, and the fact that our lives were a testament to that fundamental American ideal that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, America is a place where you can make it if you try. America is a place where you can make it if you try.

President Obama in Cedar Rapids today