Obama: ‘I was angry, rebellious, partied a little too much’ as a kid
During a speech to schoolkids today in Michigan at the Kalamazoo High School Commencement, President Barack Obama offered a unique glimpse into his childhood.
Here’s what he said, according to remarks as prepared for delivery, sent over by the White House (emphasis mine):
First, understand that your success in life won’t be determined just by what’s given to you, or what happens to you, but by what you do with all of that – by how hard you try; how far you push yourself; how high you’re willing to reach. Because true excellence comes only through perseverance.
This wasn’t something I really understood back when I was your age. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother. And I had a tendency, as my mother put it, to act a bit casual about my future. I was angry and rebellious. I partied a little too much and studied just enough to get by, thinking that hard work and responsibility were old-fashioned conventions that didn’t pertain to me.
But after a few years, living solely for my own entertainment wasn’t so entertaining anymore – and it wasn’t particularly satisfying either. In refusing to apply myself, I didn’t have much to show for myself – nothing I could point to that I was proud of.
So, what happened next for young Barack? Ben Smith nabs this interesting retrospective by Obama from David Remnick’s new book “The Bridge” (emphasis again is mine):
“You know, I’m amused now when I read quotes from high-school teachers and grammar school teachers, who say, ‘You know, he always was a great leader,’” Obama told me. “That kind of hindsight is pretty shaky. And I think it’s just as shaky for me to engage in that kind of speculation as it is for anybody. I will tell you that I think I had a hunger to shape the world in some way, to make the world a better place, that was triggered around the time that I transferred from Occidental to Columbia. So there’s a phase, which I wrote about in my first book, where, for whatever reason, a whole bunch of stuff that had been inside me — questions of identity, questions of purpose, questions of, not just race, but also the international nature of my upbringing — all those things started converging in some way. And so there’s this period of time when I move to New York and go to Columbia, where I pull in and wrestle with that stuff, and do a lot of writing and a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and a lot of walking through Central Park. And somehow I emerge on the other side of that ready and eager to take a chance in what is a pretty unlikely venture, moving to Chicago and becoming an organizer. So I would say that’s a moment in which I gain a seriousness of purpose that I had lacked before. Now , whether it was just a matter of, you know, me hitting a cetain age where people start getting a little more serious —whether it was a combination of factors — my father dying, me realizing I had never known him, me moving from Hawaii to a place like New York that stimulates a lot of new ideas — you know, it’s hard to say what exactly prompted that.”