We often look to our presidents for words of wisdom, and history has rewarded us greatly. Who among us has not been inspired by great presidential quotes? We look to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or John F. Kennedy’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” or even Bill Clinton’s, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” They push us to look inward, to find strength within ourselves, and to boost the strength of the entire union.
Barack Obama has perhaps been one of the most inspirational presidents ever elected. He’s intelligent and articulate, he speaks incredibly well, and he’s got many wonderful things to say. In his eight years in office, he’s given us a lot of inspiration and hope. While he’s in his last few days as Commander-in-chief, his words will stay with us forever. Here are the ten most inspirational quotes by Barack Obama.
“Just because we have the best hammer doesn’t mean that every problem is a nail.”
In a speech at West Point in 2014, Obama included this gem in his discussion of the best use of military force. However, it’s applicable to so many different situations because it forces you to gain a greater perspective on your life and truly think about how to approach challenges rather than just attacking them. The President’s measured temperament certainly suggests that he lives his own life by these words as well.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.”
Hopelessness begets hopelessness, Obama is telling us here, and if we want to stop the endless cycle of despair, sitting around won’t do us any good. It’s a call to activism, a push to make the world better by rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. It’s great advice for anyone, but it’s an especially important thing to hear during difficult economic times.
“If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.”
While this quote was from back in 2006, when Obama was but a mere US Senator, it’s an important one to consider because it forces us to continually evaluate the things we think we believe. Everything comes at a cost, he tells us — even our values.
“You can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you.”
In his 2009 National Address to America’s Schoolchildren, Obama gave us this line, which would make any great teacher proud. What he is telling us here is that failures aren’t really failures. Instead, they’re teachable moments, a chance to learn from our mistakes and to improve. It’s the root of education, summed up in one pithy quip.
“Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up.”
Obama knows this to be true because he has lived it himself. His father was absent for most of his life, and while he did not necessarily have a difficult upbringing, he was faced with more challenges than the average person. Still, he trusted his own instincts and intelligence, he graduated from Harvard Law School, and he quickly became noticed thanks to his outstanding speaking abilities and his intelligence and charm. He knew that achieving his goals was almost entirely dependent on himself.
“We must carry forward the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements, and no remaining ceilings to shatter.”
In Obama’s Presidential Proclamation of Women’s History Month in 2011, his speech included this call to all Americans to be strong in their feminism. It really came as no surprise to anyone; after all, Obama has always been a proponent of women’s rights and gender equality, and he has two wonderful daughters of his own.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
In a speech he gave early in 2008, before he was elected to his first term, Obama was pushing hard on his hope and change message, and offered this riff on the idea of being the change that you wish to see in the world. Yes, he was trying to get votes, but the idea behind this quote holds up in any circumstance, in any time, and in any place. Simply put, if you want to see change happen, then you’ve got to make it happen yourself, and you’ve got to start now. Waiting around will have only one outcome: things will remain exactly the way they are.
“We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try.”
In a speech on the economy given by Obama in 2011, he was under pressure to boost morale. He went to an old standby: emphasizing that America is and has always been the land of opportunity. And while making your own way in this country and becoming a success — the old Horatio Alger rags to riches narrative — may be harder now than it was in years past, America is still a country where effort, intelligence, motivation, and hard work are rewarded.
“Who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.”
Obama may be one of the more socially liberal presidents that America has ever had, and quotes like this prove it. He has always been in support of an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would mean that sexual orientation and gender identity could not be cause for hiring or firing someone. In 2013, Obama made his stance on the matter perfectly clear when he wrote this sentence in an article written in support of the ENDA on The Huffington Post.
“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity, the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together, that we rise and fall as one.”
This summary of “united we stand, divided we fall” acknowledges that unity is perhaps not as easy as we’d like it to be. Still, for all of our differences, Obama told us in his 2017 farewell address, we have more in common than we think. It’s a good message to take forth as the presidency changes hands in the coming days.