On grief and gratitude: saying goodbye to President Obama.

The movers unloaded the furniture and personal items at the Obamas' new D.C. residence, and I find myself ill-prepared to say goodbye.

I've been shuffling through the past few weeks in a haze, clinging to the first family's final moments in the White House, lost in what can only be described as a kind of grief.

President Barack Obama cries as he speaks during his farewell address in Chicago. Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images.


I don’t have to agree with my president. I don’t have to want to share a beer with him or want to be his friend. But win or lose, I want my president to be just that: my president.

I want him to think of me or, more accurately, people like me. People who don’t look like him, act like him, or necessarily agree with him. I want him to consider people who live a world away from him in class, geography, age, and upbringing. I want my president to listen to demonstrators and respond not with threats or aggression but with compassion and be open to criticism and feedback. I want my president to have some respect for this country and its citizens, whether they voted for him or not.

I grieve not for the man who’s leaving, but for the people who stand to lose when he departs.

His successor campaigned on and is setting into motion a wave of policy changes that threaten the health, safety, and well-being of millions of Americans.

I grieve for the people who may lose their access to their medical insurance and affordable health care, including from clinics like Planned Parenthood. I grieve for the people of color, Muslims, and Jews who fear for their safety in the wake of brutal hate crimes and the sexual assault survivors who may be reminded of their own attacks every single time this man takes the podium. I grieve for the refugees and immigrants who face uncertain futures, no matter how long they've called this country home. And I grieve for the LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families who fear their marriages and civil rights are on the chopping block.  

Whether they voted for him, against him, or not at all, millions of people — many of them already vulnerable — will be left to deal with the consequences of this president-elect's decisions. I think of all this, and I grieve.

Obama greets kids at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

I still remember listening to Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” no less than a dozen times the day after Obama was elected.

I held my head high on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008, my old, crappy earbuds falling out and lovingly replaced with each confident step.

Two months later, I cheered, hollered, and shed a small frozen tear at his chilly inauguration. Nothing could dim my shine. My president was black.

Obama tours Kenai Fjords National Park by boat. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

But it was more than that.

My president believed in education. He read books. Lots of them. He trusted good science. He encouraged children (and grown-ups) to invent, create, code, and think their way to a better world.

Obama sits with a Lego statue during preparations for the South by South Lawn event at the White House.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Medium.

My president was put together. He was mature and cool under pressure. He carried himself with the gravitas, passion, and self-deprecating sense of humor his position demanded, even when it would've been easier to resort to vicious attacks.

Obama in the Rose Garden. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

My president was accessible. Maybe not, "here's my cell phone number" accessible, but he opened the doors of the White House to welcome diverse performers, experts, civilians, nonprofit leaders, children, and more from across the nation and around the world, even starting his own Big Block of Cheese Day. He made the White House "our" house again.

Obama  talks with Girl Scouts, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the White House Science Fair in 2015. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy/Flickr.

My president was kind. He smiled around kids. He paid attention to people from all walks of life. He doted on his wife. His daughters seemed to adore him. He was well respected, affable, and compassionate.

My president made me proud. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama join hands with Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) as they lead the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, in Selma, Alabama. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson/Flickr.

President Obama wasn’t perfect. Far from it.

He approached issues at home and abroad in ways I didn’t always agree with, and without the sense of urgency some situations required. From his use of drone strikes to the delays and silence at Standing Rock and multiple moments and missteps in between. I often wonder how much more he could have accomplished, how much further we’d be today if he’d acted with the progressive courage we saw on the campaign trail in 2008.

Obama takes a call in the Oval Office. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

Still, I will remember his presidency fondly. On Inauguration Day, I will grieve. Then, I will get back to work.

That former grad student blasting old Kanye still remembers how good it felt to have hope. How strong and powerful I felt when I spoke up and knew my voice was heard. We all deserve to feel that, and feel respected by our elected leaders, no matter who is in the White House.

A lot of things change with a new administration, but doing what's right and treating people with respect should not.

The president's wave aligns with a rainbow as he boards Air Force One. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

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