Obama talks civic engagement, community service in speech

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Obama talks civic engagement, community service in speech

President Obama sits with six students, graduates from Chicago schools Monday for a roundtable discussion on community service and engagement. Rachel Hinton | The DePaulia

President Obama sits with six students, graduates from Chicago schools Monday for a roundtable discussion on community service and engagement. Rachel Hinton | The DePaulia

President Obama sits with six students, graduates from Chicago schools Monday for a roundtable discussion on community service and engagement. Rachel Hinton | The DePaulia

President Obama sits with six students, graduates from Chicago schools Monday for a roundtable discussion on community service and engagement. Rachel Hinton | The DePaulia

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President Obama returned to public life yesterday with a talk at the University of Chicago, where he passed the political baton to young leaders, encouraging them to be active in their communities and to not be afraid to listen to viewpoints across the aisle.

The event was as low key as the return of a president to public life could be. Hosted at the university’s Logan Performance Center, there wasn’t much fanfare for the former president. The crowd however, which was a mix of students, their teachers or advisers and the city’s media outlets, enthusiastically waited for Obama.

Emma Finkbeiner, a graduate student at DePaul who was able to attend thanks to an a raffle by the Student Government Association, was “thrilled” for the opportunity to see Obama.

“I think especially for young people he’s always been someone who has targeted young people to get involved from the voting process to everything after the voting process,” Finkbeiner said. “For him to say ‘I want to talk to people about getting involved in their communities so they can make a difference’ with the political climate right now it’s a great way to show people how they can affect their own neighborhoods.”

In the auditorium, Obama took the stage with six students and graduates who represented universities throughout Chicago — though not DePaul — to talk about topics and issues related to civic engagement and community service. Obama started by telling a story of how he got involved in community service in Hyde Park. He learned a foundation there, he said, that he would build on as he climbed the political ladder to become president.

Young people, he would say or allude to at various points during the roundtable, are the future.

Kelsey Hershenhouse, a senior major in marketing, felt that the perspective the president gave could help students like her see the problems around them.

“I think he was able to give some really great perspective as to how we, as students, can show up in a variety of ways, whether that’s for human rights or just any type of issue going on in the city or around the world,” Hershenhouse said. “He had that presence of wanting to have a discussion and gave us his perspective of what he’s seen.”

Obama did dispense some wisdom for the young leaders on stage and in the audience. Throughout the nearly hour and a half-long conversation, the young leaders on the panel, many of them already involved in community engagement and service, would answer his questions on news judgment, talking to people with opposing viewpoints (and why it’s become so difficult) as well as how they talk to their peers about voting and being involved in their communities.

Absent from the conversation was any mention of his successor President Donald Trump. But the president did circle back to the country’s current political climate and a statement he made in 2004.

When I said in 2004 that red states or blue states, they’re the United States of America, that was aspirational comment, and it’s one that I still believe,” Obama said during the event. “When you talk to individuals one-on-one, there’s a lot more  that people have in common than divides them.”