President Barack Obama returned to the spotlight on Sunday to receive the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. And his acceptance speech will probably go down as yet another example of his gift for mixing the truth of current realities with inspiration for the future.
Accepting the award from his former ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, Obama launched into his speech with his characteristic brand of understated humor. “I want to thank Michelle Obama for sticking with me,” said Obama, with a smile. “I think she felt an obligation to stay on. But once her official duties were over, it wasn’t clear.” That last line drew laughs throughout the room, just before Obama said, “I love my wife.”
After giving thanks for the award, Obama then moved on to the topic of courage itself and decided to brilliantly frame it around the issues of political activism and healthcare.
But instead of going into a bitter, politics-laced speech designed to hit back at the GOP opponents of the Affordable Care Act, he instead told a personal story. Obama shared an anecdote his late friend Senator Ted Kennedy related to him about his son, Ted Kennedy, Jr., and his fight with cancer.
Kennedy told Obama about meeting with other parents in similar circumstances in the hospital one night, and how those parents “lived in constant fear” about being able to afford the next treatment for their children.
“Ted could afford his son’s treatment, but it was that quiet dignified courage of [the other parents in the hospital] to endure the most frightening thing imaginable and to do what it takes on behalf of their loved ones that compelled Teddy to make those parents his cause,” said Obama. “Not out of self-interest, but out of a selfless concern for those who suffer.”
In another part of the speech, Obama, again seemingly referring to the fight for healthcare in the U.S., referenced the famed “arc of justice” quote delivered decades ago by Martin Luther King Jr. However, Obama put his own spin on the passage:
“[The arc] bends because we bend it,” said Obama. “Because we put our hand on that arc and we move it in the direction of justice.”