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Patrick Maillet: The brink of a new beginning

By Patrick Maillet , Columnist
Published January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON —Four years ago today, I left Washington D.C. after watching the completion of a dream I never thought possible. It was a journey that no matter how many times I chanted “Yes we can,” deep down inside, I felt like it never was going to actually come true. I thought someone, somehow would stop President Barack Obama from taking the most sacred of oaths. Four years ago, I left our nation’s capital feeling more hopeful and optimistic about both America’s future and the state of our democratic system as it once again exemplified to the world the true awesomeness of a peaceful transition of power.

Though I stood in the same spot as I did four years ago, I now find myself in a very different place. Facing new obstacles, rising to new tasks, and looking onto a brighter and more-defined future:

On Monday, I sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and once again watched President Obama raise his hand above the Bible as Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated the presidential oath of office. I listened as Obama outlined the path of his next four years as president and was left speechless and teary-eyed by the end of his address.

Once again, I find myself more hopeful than ever about America’s future, but this time I feel less naïve, better focused and more aware of not only the challenges that America faces, but also the solutions that will lift us over the obstacles of tomorrow.

President Obama began his second term as president on Monday, and he did so by telling America and the rest of the world exactly what he's looking to achieve within these next four years.

After a campaign season that never brought up the issue of global warming, Obama at long last confronted the ever-growing issues of climate change. Many Obama supporters, including myself, were beginning to worry that his administration had fallen prey to the age-old theory that economic development cannot be achieved hand-in-hand with environmental protection. Instead, Obama declared boldly that our economy can and should be built upon renewable energy and a sustainable future. While our oil addiction continues and fracking has become a standard practice throughout the country, we’ll have to make tough decisions with regards to trading economic gain for environmental protection. We can't forget our responsibility to future generations, and Obama made it clear that he wasn’t planning on doing so within his second term.

Although he swore to pass serious immigration reform within his first term, Obama shelved this campaign promise like many others, instead passing much-needed economic legislation and his signature healthcare overhaul. Yesterday, Obama declared that America must finally reform its immigration policy along with restructuring our visa system to keep educated and motivated foreigners in our country.

Finally, Obama confirmed what he stated with his recent gun bill: Gun control must be at the forefront of today’s political agenda. While he did not go into exacts, he made it clear that a major gun control reform is coming and that the deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Conn. and countless other gun victims throughout the country will not have been in vain.

From tax code overhaul and deficit reduction to investing in education and reforming voting rights, Obama discussed a multitude of tasks that the United States faces. However, although often criticized for his professorial rhetoric and an apparent lack of reality, Obama’s speech yesterday was extremely realistic and bold, yet grounded.

Four years ago today, I felt inspired and ready for the challenges ahead of me. I was 17 years old, didn’t know what college I would attend or what my future entailed. I left Washington D.C. in 2009 inspired but unsure of what was before me. America was at a similar point. Many Americans were hopeful, yet our economy was in free-fall. We were plagued with two wars, and some people were beginning to question the very future of the United States.

Four years later, I leave Washington D.C. once again, but this time in a completely different way. I still have much to learn and my future is far from obvious, but I understand what I have to do in order to achieve my goals and career aspirations. America is at a similar point. We have seen the bottom and we have rallied around crisis and catastrophe. Our future is still very unsure, but now we know what needs to be done; we know the sacrifices and choices that must be made.

Four years from now, we'll watch as the 45th president of the United States is sworn in. Who knows exactly where we will be as a country when this takes place? Regardless of whether we can predetermine these exacts, we can definitely try and predict. I believe America’s brightest days are before it. This belief isn’t based on blind optimism or naïve hope; it’s based on the conviction of President Obama and the long list of objectives laid out that if achieved, will help guide this country into the future.

Patrick Maillet can be reached at maillet@umich.edu.