Barack Obama, on public service

Barack Obama - U.S. Senator for Illinois: Podcast

Barack Obama is a hell of a speaker. I loved this piece of his opening remarks while addressing the summer interns at the Partnership for Public Service . All transcription errors are mine.

... the possibility for us to engage in the process not of perfecting the world, but improving it, of pushing that boulder up the hill so that at the end of our lifetimes we can look back and say, "We made a difference," I can't imagine a more worthy project.

You don’t have to be in government to do it, but government is one of the most important vehicles by which we do it. Now, most of the people here are going to have enormous opportunities for so many things, and you can live an outstanding life and make an outstanding contribution to your society in the private sector. I don’t mean to belittle that. But I do think that it’s important for all of you to consider: what are the risks that you’re willing to take so that you’re not just following the conventional path? Because our society constantly tells you that the thing that’s most important is a big bank account, a fancy house, a fast car, and all those things are nice, but in the end, I think they show a poverty of ambition.

And the last note I’ll make and then I’ll sit down is that I tell you that not to try to guilt trip you; it’s not just because you have a debt to the people who helped make your life a little bit better, although I think you have that debt, and it’s not just because you have an obligation to help the unfortunate, although I do think you have that obligation, but it’s actually because I think you have an obligation to yourself. The people I know who are satisfied in their lives, who feel good, have somehow hitched their life up to something larger than themselves. That’s how they fulfill their potential, by looking outward and spreading their influence, and I can’t imagine a better way of doing that than by being involved with public service. So I hope all of you continue on the path you’re already on.

“… I think they show a poverty of ambition.” What a great turn of phrase.