President Barack Obama returned to Chicago, his adopted hometown, Tuesday night to deliver a farewell address marking the end of his eight years in office. Thousands attended the speech at McCormick Place, where Obama paid tribute to his administration’s accomplishments, his family and staff. Recalling at first his early days as an organizer in Chicago, the president delivered an optimistic message urging national unity and political participation, but also warned of various threats to American democracy, including income inequality, racism and toxic politics.
Looking back to his historic election as the nation’s first African American president, Obama said, “After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. … But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.”
See photos of the evening and interviews with attendees by photographer Max Herman.
Ashley McGowan of Chicago attended President Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park eight years ago. Before the president’s farewell speech, she said, “I’m hoping for the same vibe today–something to get us through the next four to eight years. I think that we need a boost.”
Wesley Morrissette of Chicago, originally from Maryland, said that President Obama doesn’t get enough credit for his work during his two terms. “I think a lot of people complain about his policy, not knowing that what they’re complaining about isn’t [up to] him.”
“I don’t think he’ll be back in Chicago for a good while,” said Dorthea McNulty of Chicago, who was without a ticket before President Obama’s farewell speech. McNulty insisted, “I’m gonna get in–trust me.”
Audience members were interviewed by the media prior to President Obama’s farewell speech at McCormick Place.
Jamel Franklin of Chicago said he has been an Obama supporter since 2004 and voted for the president in 2008 in his first time at the polls. Franklin came out to hear the farewell speech in part for guidance. “I’m waiting to hear what’s next—not to be told what’s next, but encouraged.”
The Chicago Children’s Choir performed with Eddie Vedder before President Obama’s farewell speech at McCormick Place.
Vice President Joe Biden greets Rev. Jesse Jackson before President Obama’s farewell speech.
President Obama walks out to deliver his farewell speech at McCormick Place.
President Obama greets the crowd prior to making his farewell speech at McCormick Place. (Photo by Max Herman)
Audience members cheer President Obama’s arrival on stage at McCormick Place.
A protester with a sign reading, “Pardon us all now!” attempts to disrupt President Obama’s farewell speech.
President Obama delivers his farewell speech. His remarks warned that economic inequality, racism, toxic politics and other ills pose a threat to democracy.
Thousands filled a hall at McCormick Place to hear President Obama’s farewell speech.
Audience members cheered President Obama’s comments about inclusion and diversity during his farewell speech. “After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” the president said. “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”
President Obama delivers his farewell speech at McCormick Place. He ended with the same words that became the catchphrase of his presidential campaign” Yes we can.”
President Obama gives First Lady Michelle Obama a hug following his farewell speech at McCormick Place. The president said the First Lady “took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit, style and good humor.”
President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia Obama and the Bidens wave goodbye to the audience following the farewell speech at McCormick Place.
Vice President Joe Biden—“the scrappy kid from Scranton,” the president said–Jill Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, President Obama, and Malia Obama walk off stage after the farewell speech.
Shannon Trudge came from Washington D.C. to see President Obama’s speak and called his farewell “empowering and bold.” Trudge was especially struck by the theme of unity and the idea that “we have to work together every day moving forward.”
After the doom and gloom many students felt following the recent election, University of Chicago student Andrew Yin liked how President Obama put an emphasis on youth and unity during his farewell speech, but refrained from personal attacks.”
Sandra McCloud of Chicago, originally from Texas, said she got emotional seeing President Obama talk about his work in the White House and his family. But she’s also nervous about the incoming presidential administration. “It’s not that I’m against the Republican Party–not at all. I just feel that Donald Trump is the wrong person [for president].”