On January 20, 2009, when I was 20 years old, two friends and I stood out in the freezing cold from 5 am well into the afternoon at Barack Obama's first inauguration.
When we first arrived at the Capitol, it was 15 degrees outside and still dark.
By the time Obama began speaking hours later, my toes were frozen, and I desperately needed to use the bathroom. But I knew if I left my place, I'd never get back there. I was in a sea of people. So I stayed put. I could hold it a bit longer in order to bear witness to history, I told myself.
At one point, not long before Obama took the oath of office, one of my friends just sat down on the ground in the middle of the crowd because he was so exhausted. We began to wonder if we'd made a foolish choice, as we'd not slept the night before, went out in downtown DC and wandered over as early as possible to ensure we'd get the best view available.
But then Obama began speaking, and it was clear why we'd put ourselves through all that: hope.
Indeed, we wanted to feel the hope and optimism that permeates any group of people he speaks to.
As the president stated that day,
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
There were 1.8 million people at his inauguration that day, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen so much diversity and felt so much unity in a single moment.
What's astonished me throughout Obama's political career, and especially his presidency, is his ability to hold onto that hope and optimism that drove me to stand outside for hours on a frigid January day.
This man came into office amid two wars and during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But he was fundamentally hopeful about the future. The audacity of hope — that's what defines Obama's character.
From his first days in office, the president has been vilified by his opponents, and some have even questioned his patriotism and nationality. But he never lost hope in the capacity of Americans to come together when it really mattered.
Even though he ended the two wars he inherited, and even though he prevented the Great Recession from becoming even more calamitous than it already was, many have insisted on giving him no credit for his accomplishments. They've painted false pictures of an America in decline, somehow forgetting how bad things were at the end of the Bush administration compared to where we find ourselves now.
What's more, this man has delivered statement after statement on mass shootings, and publicly cried because children were shot and killed in their classrooms, only to watch a stagnant Congress do nothing as gun violence claims over 10,000 American lives per year.
In spite of all this, President Obama has remained optimistic about the future of America. If anyone had the right to lose all faith in this country, it would be him.
But he's always found a way to view this country's struggles and problems as opportunities, rather than signs America has failed in its mission, or is no longer great.
The president's speeches at Democratic National Conventions, from the time he truly emerged onto the national political scene in 2004, to his speech at the DNC in Philadelphia this past week, have encapsulated his unwavering hope and faith in America's capacity to move forward.
In 2004, as a young senate candidate from Illinois, he took the stage and stated,
Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope? ...I'm not talking about blind optimism here, the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't think about it, or health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.
Twelve years later, at the twilight of his presidency, he delivered a speech with nearly identical sentiments on in Philadelphia. The president said,
A lot has happened over the years. And while this nation has been tested by war, and it's been tested by recession and all manner of challenges — I stand before you again tonight, after almost two terms as your president, to tell you I am more optimistic about the future of America than ever before. Time and again, you've picked me up. And I hope, sometimes, I picked you up, too ... Because you're who I was talking about 12 years ago when I talked about hope. It's been you who fueled my dogged faith in our future, even when the odds were great; even when the road is long. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope.
Who knows what will happen this election. America is deeply divided in many different ways.
But perhaps if we all embraced hope just a little bit more, perhaps if we were a little more audaciously optimistic, we might come together and see we can't accomplish anything until we stop blaming one another for our problems, and start working together for solutions.
Not everyone is a fan of President Obama. That's hardly a secret. But those of us who connected with his message of hope since day one are really going to miss having him around.
Whether you liked Obama or not, whether you think he's done a good job or failed miserably, we can agree this country could always use more hope.
America was founded on hope, and the insane belief a small group of colonists could defeat the world's greatest empire at the time.
America has progressed through hope, and the unwavering efforts of countless individuals to fight and strive toward establishing a more perfect union.
And from its earliest days, millions have come to America from across the globe with the hope of building a better life.
President Obama has continuously sought to remind us of that hope, and how it forged his improbable story as the first black president in US history.
The president ended his first inaugural address with a quote from Thomas Paine that George Washington ordered read to the colonies amid the Revolutionary War when a British victory appeared inevitable.
Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].
Simply put, hope is not about wandering through the world with a happy-go-lucky attitude. It's not about downplaying the problems we face and assuming things will get better.
True hope is having the confidence to step into the arena and meet the convoluted forces that converge upon us head on — it requires audacity.
That's the kind of hope Barack Obama has always strived to instill across America.
The video below reminds us of that hope.