About two weeks before the election, my daughter Anri and her English teacher, the best one in the school, started working on a speech contest. Anri was barred from the Prince Takamatsu Speech contest because she had an American passport. But there were a couple of other prestigious contests, and Anri was gunning for some competition with my other daughter, Julia, who got second place in the Japan finals of the world-wide Churchill Speech Contest last year.
The agenda two weeks ago was to choose an appropriate speech. Anri had started with the standards, like the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln, or the Gettysburg address. Suggested Chief Joseph‘s surrender speech. He was leader of the Nez Perce, chased by the US army from their homes and captured just short of the Canadian border after leading women and old men for hundreds of miles. Or Lou Gehrig‘s retirement speech, since she was a softball player. Lou Gehrig had a very bad brain disease, but played every Yankee’s game he was in for 12 years, and was an MVP. Or Robert Kennedy‘s speech the day Martin Luther King was assassinated. She (rightly) found all of these a little to negative.
So I suggested a speech by Obama, because I had just watched it on YouTube. It was the one in Ohio in October, his most powerful one about the economy. But the last part shined. Anri picked that speech two weeks before he got elected. She has it memorized already, and will take it up against others in a speech contest for junior high students.
This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven’t seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession?
Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other’s success?
This is one of those moments. I realize you’re cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you’re disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what’s been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history. I ask you to believe – to believe in yourselves, in each other, and in the future we can build together.
Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can’t afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.
We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can’t go to college but my child can; maybe I can’t have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.
Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. Together, we can overcome the broken policies and divided politics of the last eight years. Together, we can renew an economy that rewards work and rebuilds the middle class. Together, we can create millions of new jobs, and deliver on the promise of health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete. We can do this if we come together; if we have confidence in ourselves and each other; if we look beyond the darkness of the day to the bright light of hope that lies ahead. Together, we can change this country and change this world. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.