Obama’s speech should engage students in politics

By Jaime Watts, Columnist

Former President Barack Obama has won the University of Illinois System’s Douglas Award for Ethics in Government. With this award, it was announced that he will give a speech at Foellinger Auditorium to students this Friday.

This announcement has created a lot of buzz, and students are anticipating the email confirming if they received a ticket or not. All students were notified in an email from the University administration detailing that they are able to enter a lottery to be randomly selected for a ticket.

I was surprised by the amount of people I knew who wanted to go — friends with differing political beliefs or even those who aren’t normally invested in politics are showing interest in seeing the former president.

Former President Obama is coming to the University at the perfect time. According to Katie Hill, his communications director, “He will expand upon several of the themes from his summer address, including that America is at its best when our democracy is inclusive and our citizens are engaged.” NBC also reported that he will discuss the rejection of authoritarian politics.

With the Illinois midterm elections coming up Nov. 6, I believe we need a leader, like Obama, to address the political issues we face today and how they affect us as students.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    This past summer, the Trump administration announced plans to end Obama’s policy on affirmative action, a policy that brings diversity to schools and creates a more inclusive environment overall. Reversing affirmative action hinders the goal of having more diverse schools in the United States.

    Whatever your view is on affirmative action, the bottom line is that it affects students here at the University.  Obama discussing how important it is to have inclusivity is why this policy comes to mind.

    Because the Illinois midterm election is approaching, it is so important that students here vote regardless of their political party or views. If policies like affirmative action are important to you, then vote for those candidates that support it.

    And with the recent death of Senator John McCain, people are not only mourning him but also mourning the potential end of bipartisanship in politics. McCain was an example of how we can disagree respectfully and put our differences aside in order to be kind to one another. Evan Siegfried of NBC wrote in regard to McCain inviting both Obama and George W. Bush to speak at his funeral: “It is a testament to his belief that we might have a difference in views, but we are still united by our love for this country.”

    It just so happens that McCain also won the Douglas Award in 2000.

    I’ve seen it firsthand on campus how emotions play a part in political discussions through topics, such as the former mascot Chief Illiniwek, the 2016 election and education policies, like affirmative action. Those topics understandably raise a lot of emotions for people, but it is important we show unity in different aspects.

    This is another reason why Obama is coming here at a perfect time. It is time, as students, we should learn from what is going on in the higher positions of government and reflect on it in our own lives. We should be able to have respectful debates in classrooms or online and not live in our own bubble of political views. Obama addressing the importance of being “engaged citizens” shows us, as young voters, that we can have a big impact if we put forth the effort.

    The start of the school year is the time to make changes, create progress and begin the process of opening our minds to new people.

    At the very least, President Obama’s speech should remain with us until midterms and should encourage more students to get out and vote.

    Jaime is a junior in LAS.

    [email protected]