As you can see from the archives, I had written only a handful of posts when I kicked off Reschool Yourself a few months ago. The post that you’re reading now, I am proud to say, is my 100th. I find the timing excellent, because I want to take this opportunity to digress from reschooling and celebrate the election of our new president.
Tonight I want to flood the streets with my fellow Americans, whooping and carrying on like the Europeans do after their team wins a soccer match. Tonight I can say that I’m proud to be an American, and I haven’t said that in a long time.
I studied in Spain in the Fall of 2000, during the infamous election that would make the name “Chad” as unpopular for new babies as “Judas.” I voted absentee. When I went to bed the night of the election, the news channels favored Gore as the winner. When I woke up the next morning, it looked like Bush had won, but there was much rapid debate in a language I was just beginning to understand. I felt incredibly confused and desperately wanted to know what was happening. I now know I would have felt the same way if I’d been watching the coverage in the U.S. in English. When Bush was finally declared president, a lot of my American classmates said that they wished they didn’t have to go back to the U.S. We predicted the Bush presidency would be bad, but we couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of what was in store for our country.
In 2004, I remember feeling convinced that Americans wouldn’t repeat the mistakes they’d made in 2000. This feeling slowly drained as I watched CNN poll results late into the night. When I opened the newspaper the next morning, I simply couldn’t believe that Americans had re-elected a man widely recognized as the worst president in U.S. history.
This year I didn’t want to get my hopes up again, but I did anyway. So did millions of other Americans. And it paid off. Tonight, rooms across the nation — and most likely, the world — erupted in cheers as we elected Barack Obama as our 44th President, and the first African American president. Strangers hugged each other in bars, people cried for joy, and phone lines clogged as people called each other to celebrate with each other from afar. Even during a time of fear and cynicism, Obama’s victory has restored a hope and sense of empowerment to millions of us.
In February 2006, I got the opportunity to meet Barack Obama in his D.C. office. I came with a group from Public Allies, an organization in which both he and his wife Michelle have been actively involved. (I feel privileged to sit on the board of directors of which Obama was a founding member.) At the time, there was buzz about a possible presidential run, but nothing definite.
I came to meet Obama equipped with a conversation starter: I knew that his oldest daughter is named Malia — my name, only spelled the traditional Hawaiian way. When I filed into his D.C. office with the group and introduced myself, he perked up at my name and said, “Are you from the islands?” I said that my mom was, and most of her family still lived there, in Pearl City, and Waipahu, and Aiea. He nodded and smiled as I listed off these cities in his native Oahu, and I could tell that he would have continued the conversation if not for the line of folks behind me. After he spoke to the group briefly and thanked us for visiting, he took a picture with us (a picture that I’d like to track down) and wished us well. On my way out the door, he said, “I’ll tell my daughter that I met another Malia today,” and handed me the business card that I’ve posted here.
I can confirm that Obama makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room. As we know from his speeches that have given people chills and moved them to tears, he speaks with a grace that suggest the greatness of Lincoln or Kennedy. He listens, as he said tonight, “especially to those who disagree” with him. He inspired a website that auto-generates statements like “Barack Obama loves your laugh” and “Barack Obama left a comment on your blog.” I feel lucky to be alive for his presidency, and the turnaround that I know it will bring for our country.
I’m one of the many Americans who had checked out of politics years ago because I didn’t feel that I was part of a true democracy where my input mattered. I’m one of the many who, while traveling abroad, was tempted to tell foreigners that I was Canadian. Tonight that all changes. I can finally say the words that had grown so unfamiliar to me: I feel proud to be an American. President-Elect Obama, I gratefully dedicate this 100th post to you.