Dear President and Mrs. Obama,
Last night you said goodbye to the nation, and I want you to know I will miss you. You don’t know me, but I met you in my head on TV the year you spoke at the Democratic Convention in 2004. You moved my soul when you spoke; your ability to connect with people, the way you explained conflict and strife, the manner in which you shared your amazing family with a very public world remains unparalleled. You never pretended to be perfect despite the perfection our world expected from you. You gave us a reason to hope, to believe, and even now, I feel better having listened to your farewell. You reminded us of what it means to be a patriotic American. You breathed new life into our Democracy and empowered people to feel the strength of our Constitution in all of its complex history and individual parts.
Thank you for your service. Thank you, Michelle, for reminding our young women and young men–regularly– what it means to be strong, smart, articulate, and compassionate. You honored the role of First Lady; and first ladies and first men from now on will find measuring up near impossible. When they went low, you went high, and you brought us right along side of you. You challenged me to be stronger, smarter, and more courageous. Thank you for being my children’s first President and First Lady. One of our son’s first words was “Bama” and I cherish the memory of having him repeat the word to me giggling, my first official parenting political influence. In your eight years in office together, I became a first and second time mother, a better teacher, a stronger advocate for those with disabilities, and a published author. Your energy fed mine, and I’m forever grateful.
I listened last night and again today in class with my high school students.
“Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” Having spent my first year teaching in Philadelphia, I learned first hand our public schools are far from equal; yet as a kid growing up in New Hampshire and an educated graduate from Connecticut College, I had no idea how hard life could be for kids living in other places–even in America. There is still so much to learn.
“We must uphold laws against discrimination, but laws won’t be enough; hearts must change.” Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree, this weekend especially with our unending focus on human rights along with Civil Rights, that we have barely scratched the surface of deepening equality.
You quoted the mighty Atticus Finch, fictional dad in To Kill a Mockingbird, a book we are currently reading in my ninth grade English class, “You never really understand a person unless you climb around in their skin and walk around in it.” This makes sense to his little girl Scout in the same way injustice shocks my ninth graders when they read Harper Lee’s words for the first time. What do you mean an innocent man could be found guilty for a crime he does not commit?
“Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” You are warning us here, a far changed man from the idealist who spoke to me back in 2004. However, your optimism remains, tempered only by years of experience, but never hardened or made cynical.
You lecture without placing blame; you inspire without cliche; you energize by modeling what it is to be a good sport, a team player, and everything a team captain ought to be. You honor your wife without feeling threatened by her power and prowess. Together you raised your smart and beautiful little girls in the Whitest House in America, nurturing their kindness, integrity, compassion, and bravery.
I promise to dream big– to instill the same hope in my children’s hearts and those of my students that you built in mine. The world is big enough for everyone’s opinion and belief structure to matter. My wagon is hitched to something greater than myself, and we have many miles to go. Thank you, President and Mrs. Obama, thank you from the very core of my being. I will miss you.
Heather Ehrman Krill
Wife, Mother, American Public School Teacher, Writer, and Advocate