Since leaving the White House, President Obama has been vacationing hard. But it's time for the 44th president to get back to work, and Obama made his first public appearance since Inauguration Day Monday, hinting at what he wants to do post-presidency.
The former president returned to his hometown of Chicago to speak with students at the University of Chicago about civic engagement and community organizing. He immediately seemed more laid back, joking with the Chicago audience, "What's been going on while I've been gone?," adding how happy he was to be back.
Obama explained that he started out as a community organizer in the city and left college "filled with idealism and absolutely certain I was going to change the world." But, he added, "I had no idea how." He admitted that he didn't make much progress toward that goal at his first job, but that it taught him valuable lessons he's always carried with him.
"This community taught me that ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things," he told the students in the audience. "This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important. This experience taught me that beneath the surface difference of people, there were common hopes and aspirations."
Now that he's done running the country, Obama wants to shift his focus toward helping "prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world."
He said he believes it is possible to solve the major problems facing the nation today — from the economy to climate change. "What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with out politics and our civic life," Obama said, explaining that it's hard for the two parties to find common ground and special interests dominate debates in Washington. And, he said, "People just aren't involved; they get cynical."
Obama said he wants to ask the question, "Are there barriers keeping young people from getting involved?," explaining, "If there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers."