This highly anticipated visit to Champaign-Urbana left a lot of folks — not just the general public, but thousands of students too — outside of Foellinger Auditorium today watching the live stream of former President Barack Obama's visit to U of I. Though the apperance came and went, there was a lot packed into his visit to C-U. Obama spoke for about an hour in front of about 1,100+ attentive onlookers — students, politicians, local government officials, media personnel, and more — delivering his message of the importance of voting. This is one of his stops as the midterm elections near.

U of I President Timothy Killeen

Obama's visit began with accepting the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government earlier in the day, with his talk at Foellinger happening after that. Opening remarks were made by U of I President Timothy Killeen, who introduced Amaury Saulsberry, a junior here at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Saulsberry got the honor of introducing the main attraction with a few words of his own about where he started on the south side of Chicago, and how in the face of hardship, those challenges drove him to where he is today — not just at the University of Illinois, but introducing the former President.

Former President Barack Obama and U of I student Amaury Saulsberry

Aside from his main points of stressing the importance of voting, Obama's speech traveled back in time to showcase how we got here — from references to Abraham Lincoln's actions as a Republican President, to his time as President and the challenges that he faced then. 

Obama stressed voting — not just in the midterm elections, but in every subsiquent election — making points about the current adminstration's radical advances and priorities that didn't align with what it means to be an American. All of that — plus some jokes about why he declined being the commencement speaker at the U of I last year, citing spending more time with his family, and dismissing the rumor that there was a debate surrounding Antonio's Pizza on Green Street. There were plenty of chuckles from those of us in attendence, not just about a joke about Antonio's, but nervous laughter about how Donald Trump's administration's goals and actions weren't a hypothetical — but actual things that are happening in our country today that are a concern to everyone.

"Better is always worth fighting for" Obama pointed out, as he discussed the imperfections of our democracy, and how common ground exists. "You can't sit back and wait for a savior... all we need are decent, honest, hardworking people to step up, and we need to support those people" he said.

Obama stressed that even though Americans will always have different views on policies, Republicans and Democrats as well as others across the political spectrum, "we as Americans are supposed to stand up against discrimination", and how even if we disagree with one another, we should be concerned with the current climate politically. Voting and taking action as citizens is key in that mission towards fixing our democracy.

All photos by Anna Longworth

Update: the recording of the livestream is up on YouTube, you can watch the whole thing below: