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A Conversation with The President

Eight memorable quotes from President Barack Obama’s Undefeated conversation

The president dropped knowledge during the town hall discussion at North Carolina A&T State University

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed an audience filled with students and invited guests at North Carolina A&T State University in one of his most relaxed town hall discussions. The mood ranged from serious to lighthearted in the three segments that covered sports, race and achievement. The president left attendees with several reasons to miss him once his term comes to an end. Here are eight quotable nuggets:

Obama on the Maya Angelou quote, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

“We all get knocked down in life, and that’s true regardless of race, faith, gender and as Maya [Angelou] points out, the question is, how do you respond? Do you get back up once you get knocked down? I think that the history of America is people who oftentimes came here with nothing. That’s obviously most true for African-Americans, but it’s true for the entire immigrant experience for the most part. And yet, we’re able — in some fashion — to make a way out of no way. And through faith and dedication and perseverance to learn from defeats and thereby render them temporary to figure out the strength inside that allows you to achieve your goals.”

“A lot of times when you’re young and you’re trying to make your mark on the world, you think it’s about you. One of the benefits of defeat is to take some of the vanity out of what it is that you’re trying to achieve. And you start reminding yourself part of your strength comes from realizing, ‘Oh, this isn’t about me, this about what I’m doing for somebody else.’ And it may be that God has chosen another way for me to serve, but I can still serve. And when you start having that attitude, when you have an attitude that this is about something bigger than me, then your individual victories or defeats become less important than the broader project.”

On family life:

“When I talk to friends of mine who are just now becoming fathers … I always tell them — and this is something I’m absolutely certain of — on my deathbed, I will not remember any bills I passed, I will not remember any speech I gave, I will not remember getting the Nobel Prize. What I will remember is holding hands with my daughters, taking them down to a park. That’s one thing I know is that on my deathbed, that is what I will remember. If you approach life with that attitude, then you’re going to appropriately invest in what is most important.”

On mentoring:

“To have somebody who’s showing them, ‘Here’s an alternative, here’s a pathway, here’s an opportunity that you can seize and you are worth something, and you are important and you’re a leader,’ it doesn’t take a lot to transform the lives of young men … Some of [the young men] were talking about [said], ‘Yeah, I was on the streets, doing drugs.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I was doing the same thing. It’s just that I was in Hawaii, so I wasn’t gonna get shot and there was only so far I could fall if I made bad decisions. I made all kinds of bad decisions. And so if that’s true for me, that’s true for kids everywhere. The question is, are we creating enough of a network that kids aren’t falling through the cracks, and when they make a mistake we hold them accountable? We explain to them the mistakes they made, more importantly, that they start internalizing how they can control their own destiny, but we also say, ‘You are fundamentally good and we’re ready to work with you.’ ”

On historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and college debt:

“Part of the goal for HBCUs is the same message that I send on every college campus around the country, because this is not restricted to HBCUs — although it’s worse here. When America gets a cold, sometimes black folks get pneumonia. It’s worse here, but it’s a more prevalent problem.”

On creating change:

“I think that change happens, typically not because somebody on high decides that it’s going to happen, but rather because at a grassroots level enough people come together that they force the system to change.”

“One of the things that I recommend when I meet with young activists is to find out what are the specific things that are going to have an impact on the issue that you care about, so that when you finish a protest and you’ve gotten people’s attention, you’re able to say, ‘And by the way, here’s what we want you to do.’ As opposed to, ‘We feel good ’cause we protested,’ but then eventually the protest dissipates and nothing changes.”

On plans after leaving the White House:

“I’m going to sleep for two weeks and then I’m gonna take Michelle on a really nice vacation, because she deserves it. She’s been putting up with me for quite some time. And then we’re going to continue to work on the issues we care deeply about. Most prominently, we’re going to be interested in figuring out how we can develop the next generation of leaders.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.