Being the former President of the United States has a degree of recognition and global acclaim associated with it that no other political posting in the world can reasonably claim to match. It was then an absolute shock to most of us here in Halifax when last June, it was announced that former President Barack Obama, one of the worlds most iconic and renounced figures in geopolitics in the 21st century, would be arriving to our city for a conversation with the Nova Scotian Co-Operative council. This is the Dalhousie Business Reviews’ recap of that conversation.

“Change is never easy, but always possible.”

There are few people in the world today who can generate as much as a buzz as the former President of the United States, Barack Obama can. This is a man that when he was sworn in all the way back in 2008, teachers stopped classes here in Canada for children to watch as the first African American was given the oath of office to the most powerful position in the land. There are few people who can captivate a crowd in foreign nations as they do in their home countries as President Obama can. The reception he stepped on stage to Wednesday night was that of jubilation and excitement for a man who is seemingly as influential as the days he still held office. The former President was in the stadium for little more than an hour but touched on different facets of being one of the most influential figures in the world. From climate change to youth engagement, we will breakdown some of the highlights from the historic night last Wednesday.

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”

One of the highlights from the president’s talk was directed towards the young people in the audience. Before the event even began, the Nova Scotia Co-Operative council made clear that they wanted young people to attend this conference. To this end, 2000 of the 9000 seats at the sold-out event on Wednesday were held in reserve from the initial sale and later were gifted to local students in Halifax. The former president himself took time to recognize the commitments and engagement he has seen in the younger generation. It wasn’t that he thought that the young people were politically disengaged, it was the complete opposite to that. As the former president put went on to say, he sees young people as very politically and socially engaged, but also very thoughtful into what they chose to support. Relating to what his daughter’s reactions are when a controversy regarding a company comes out “They have no brand loyalty.” The younger generation is more engaged and willing to switch out from a system or an organization that they see are not socially beneficial. In possibly the president’s most poignant words, it is not important for young people to focus on what they want to be in their future, but to focus on what they want to do.

Recent demonstrations for climate action has highlighted a surge in youth participation in organized demonstrations around the world. Photo by Saph Photography from Pexels

“You Can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you.”

The office of the president is not an easy one to hold. After 8 years holding one of the highest offices of the land, President Obama took time to reflect on what exactly all that meant. In terms of jobs, it all comes down to risk. “How are we going to get our country out of one of the greatest recessions in our nation’s history? Do we bail out the auto industry? Do we launch a raid to kill Osama Bin Laden?” A lot of the job came down to chances of what may or may not work and going with what option had the best-looking outcome.

One of the most moving moments of the night came when the president was asked to reflect on his hardest day he had in office. He took a moment to pause and contemplate his tenure but came up with an answer that was emotionally touching to everyone present. “I think the hardest day for me, was when a gunman walked into a school in Connecticut and shot at children. Babies essentially.” The former president spoke on the difficulty in handling the situation, but also it’s immediate aftermath when he met the families of the children who were slain that day. One of the most frustrating parts for the president was not being able to get congress to react to the tragedy in a meaningful way when it came to gun reform legislation and the challenges that were posed to him in trying to enact those legislations.

President Obama, pausing for a moment as he wipes a tear away while making a statement regarding the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. December 14, 2012. Photo Courtesy of the White House.

“The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.”

President Obama was asked what he regarded as the greatest threat posed to our society at this time. The president noted that while there are many different challenges that our society faces today, from poverty to the breaking down of our more close-knit community-based society, climate change is still a major issue that will affect not just Canadians and Americans, but everyone in the world. Noting the significant impact that climate change would bring on communities like Halifax in particular. A sea-level rise of 2-3ft, which is more than likely to happen, would bring its challenges to a city like Halifax. But with a rise of 5-6ft then we are talking something that would dramatically affect a city like this.

You don’t have to look hard for examples of how climate change is already affecting our world today. Last Thursday, flooding in Venice Italy forced the government to declare a state of emergency as water levels reached 6ft high in some of the most historic sections of the city.

Sea level rises pose a risk to hundreds of millions of people around all across the globe. Photo by Jim gade on Unsplash

“Each Path to Knowledge involves different rules and these rules are not interchangeable.”

One of the most profound implications from last Wednesday’s talk is more intangible that anything the President could have said. If you take a look at the situation as a whole, we have a former president of the United States coming not to a major metropolis like Toronto or Montreal, but to a modest city like Halifax and still receive as warm of a welcome as he could visiting a major city in the US. If there is one thing that the president showed last Wednesday more than anything, it’s that even though he is no longer the president of one of the most important and influential nations in history, he still has the capability to inspire and captivate people around the world.

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Campbell, F. (2019, October 10). 2,000 students get free tickets to Obama’s talk in Halifax: The Chronicle Herald.
BBC News. (2019, November 14). Venice floods: Italy to declare state of emergency over damage.

All Quotes highlighted above are attributed to President Barack Obama in the A Conversation with Barack Obama official Event Program