CHICAGO (CBS) — In his first public speech since leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama told a forum of Chicago area students he wants to pass the baton to “the next generation of leadership.”
“So what’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” Obama said as he took the stage for a forum at the University of Chicago, where he once taught constitutional law. “It is wonderful to be home, it is wonderful to be at the University of Chicago, it is wonderful to be on the South Side of Chicago, and it is wonderful to be with these young people here.”
The forum was Obama’s first public event and first public visit to Chicago since leaving the office in January. He shared the stage with five college students and graduates and one high school senior, talking about what’s keeping some young people from being more involved in their communities.
The students said leaders don’t make real connections with them or each other.
An immigrant who said he ran for office, but lost, asked the former president about failure.
Obama spoke about his sole election defeat, when he lost in his race against Congressman Bobby Rush in the 2000 Democratic primary. The former president said he ran without a clear idea of his goal beyond being elected.
“This is a mistake I think a lot of folks who get into politics make, and so when I see White House interns or I talk to young people, I always tell them, ‘Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do,’” he said.
That was advice the whole audience appreciated.
Now that he has left elected office, Obama said he has considered a number of possibilities for his “next job.”
“The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world,” he said.
Obama also reflected on his days as a community organizer on the South Side before he got into politics. He said it was important to listen to people’s interests and needs, to help develop policies to address their concerns.
“I am the first to acknowledge I did not set the world on fire, nor did I transform these communities in any significant way,” he said. “But it did change me. This community gave me more than I was able to give in return. This community taught me that ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things.”
Joining Obama on stage Monday morning were:
• Tiffany Brown, who got her doctorate from Chicago State University and graduated from Kenwood Academy near Obama’s home on the South Side;
• Ayanna Watkins, a senior at Kenwood;
• Harish Patel, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and a deputy director at New America, a think tank focused on technology and policy;
• Kelsey McClear, a senior at Loyola University;
• Ramuel Figueroa, an Army veteran and research assistant at Roosevelt University;
• and Max Freedman, a student at the University of Chicago.
Obama’s office told CBS 2 that the former president intents to be highly engaged in Chicago — through his presidential museum and his foundation — in ways that are both public and behind the scenes.
Obama’s re-entry into public life doesn’t cease in Chicago. On May 7, he will receive the John F. Kennedy courage award in Boston; then he’s off to Italy to deliver the keynote speech at the Global Innovation Food Summit; and later next month, Obama is scheduled to meet with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.