In his first public appearance since leaving the White House in January, Former President Barack Obama said that he plans to use his time post-presidency to "prepare the next generation of leadership."
Obama gave a brief speech before holding a conversation with young leaders at the University of Chicago Monday, saying he has spent a lot of time "thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job."
"What I’m convinced of is that although there are all kinds of issues that I care about and all kinds of issues that I intend to work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help in any way that I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world," Obama said.
Students from around the Chicago area joined Obama on stage to discuss the importance of community organizing and civic engagement.
"Are there ways we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people from a life a service?" Obama said. " I want to work to knock down those barriers and to get this generation to accelerate their move toward leadership."
Obama noted that young people are the key to solving the nation's most daunting problems, citing economic inequality, the need to reform the nation's criminal justice system, tackling climate change and gun violence.
"All those problems are serious. They're daunting. But they're not insolvable," Obama said.
The event began at 11 a.m. at the school’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Several students had said they were eager to hear from Obama, who has been seen attending various events since leaving office, but has yet to make a public appearance in any official capacity.
“I’d like to see if he has anything in store for Chicago as a city, because I think there are a lot of things going on right now that I’d like to hear his opinion about,” said U of C student Zoe Dervin.
“I’d just be interested to hear sort of how he is going to be involved now that he’s in a different role,” another student added.
Obama did discuss current challenges facing the country, including the state of politics during and following his presidency.
"Because of money in politics, central interests dominate the debates in Washington in ways that don’t match up with what the broad majority of Americans feel," he said.
Monday’s event served as another homecoming of sorts in several ways, as the former president taught constitutional law at the Hyde Park institution for several years before entering politics.
The University of Chicago will also house his future presidential library, to be built in nearby Jackson Park – both conveniently located near the Obama family’s home in the Kenwood neighborhood.
Obama arrived in Chicago on Sunday, meeting with at-risk young men and boys from the organization Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny on the city's South Side, where he started as a community organizer at age 25.
He addressed that experience again during his Monday speech.
"This community gave me a lot more than I was able to give in return," he said. "This community taught me that ordinary people when working together can do extraordinary things. This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important. This experience taught me that beneath the surface differences of people there were common hopes, and common dreams, common aspirations and common values that stitched us together as Americans."
Obama was last in Chicago in February for meetings on his library, according to a source. That visit marked his first hometown trip since delivering his final address in office from McCormick Place in January.
“I’m immensely proud that his last speech as president was here in the city of Chicago and his first major address in his post-presidency is here in the city of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.