Barack Obama delivered the first public remarks of his post-presidency on Monday, sitting down with six “young leaders” at the University of Chicago, where his presidential library will be located.
“So, uh, what’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” Obama joked as he took his seat. While the country has plunged into turmoil, the former president has kept a relatively low profile. He’s spent the last several months working on his memoir in between stints golfing in California, kitesurfing in the Caribbean with Richard Branson and vacationing on David Geffen’s yacht in Tahiti with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey.
His appearance Monday signaled his return to the public eye, and Obama mentioned some of the issues he’ll seek to tackle in his post-presidency, including plans to combat gerrymandering, money in politics and media polarization. (He didn’t go into details on Monday, but Obama has previously discussed plans to collaborate with former Attorney General Eric Holder on an initiative to combat gerrymandering. Holder announced the creation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in January.)
His highest priority, though, Obama said Monday, would be working with young people like the ones he sat beside onstage in Chicago. “What is the most important thing I can do for my next job? … The most important single thing I can do is to help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world,” he said.
Obama took no shots at the new president, despite several opportunities given to him by his fellow panelists. He offered practical advice to both an organizer about building trust with undocumented day laborers who have become skittish since Trump’s election (“Put away the clipboard,” Obama advised) and to a failed candidate on how to bounce back from a – gulp – tough election loss (“Worry less about what you want to be and more about what you want to do,” he said.)