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What I Want My Kids to Learn from the Inaugural Address

Four years ago I kept my kids home from school to watch President Obama’s inauguration. (In spite of rather vocal naysayers, I’m still on board with Obama.)

Today, my kids were out of school for MLK day. NPR’s coverage of the inauguration blared through our house while my older kids slept in and I fought with my 10-year-old about doing the dishes. Just another day in paradise.

I was only half-listening to the coverage while I buzzed around eradicating smells from the house. But as the 44th president began to speak, he caught my full attention. I stopped what I was doing and listened. I’m on board with Obama because we share values. I’m on board with Obama because he says things that I’m trying to teach my family. I’m on board with Obama because he describes a future I want for my kids, you know—the ones I fight with about doing the dishes.

Here are some highlights from President Obama’s inaugural address that underscore some of the things I want my kids to learn and remember as they grow up and make their way in the world.

I want them to have compassion for others:

“Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

“We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice—not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”

I want them to work together:

“No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”

“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”

I want them to honor commitments:

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other—through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security—these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

I want them to be good stewards over the Earth: 

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

I want them to be peace-loving:

“Enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully—not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

 I want them to understand freedom: 

“Our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.” (Hat tip, MLK)

I want them to be fair:

“Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. . . Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. . . Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

I want them to keep trying:

“We must act, we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

Full text of Obama’s 2nd Inaugural speech, here.

Photo Credit: Pete Souza

Read more of my writing at Babble and at my blog, Every Day I Write the Book.

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