Welp, in just three days, Barack Obama, his family, and his White House staff will leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the final time, a sad reality made all the more tragic by who’s moving in. The president has spent his final weeks in office making the interview rounds and defending a legacy that is now in question thanks to Donald Trump and a Republican Party that has sold its soul for a seat at the gold-plated table. But Obama will be leaving office as one of the most popular presidents in recent memory, and no matter what happens to the Affordable Care Act and other legislation, he’ll go down in history as a president who governed with dignity, compassion, and intellect, qualities that are more rare in our commanders in chief than they ought to be.
To mark the end of the Obama era, we asked some writers, musicians, and actors what they'll miss about number 44, and, of course, his wife.
Ethan Hawke - actor, writer, director
I have this feeling that even people who are disappointed in the Obama administration are gonna start getting nostalgic really quickly for how wonderful it’s been to have a president who had no scandal, maintained an ethical clarity for the entire presidency, was so much fun, and whose wife was so cool. How the hell he managed eight scandal-free years is unbelievable. I always liked Bill Clinton, I always thought he was a really good president, and I really believe in him and admire him, but I was so disappointed in him for letting his administration... you know Ken Starr spent $60 million dollars trying to fry his ass? He gave them some material. Obama gave them nothing. I honestly believe that his desire was to meet people on middle ground. Watching Paul Ryan scowl at his last State of the Union—remember Paul Ryan was behind him the whole time. Obama could say, “Isn’t it great that kids are being fed?” and Paul Ryan would scowl. How are you against that? Is there no meeting ground? But it let you know what this country is up against, how much anger there is on the other side.
Keegan-Michael Key - actor, writer, comedian
I was going to say something very tongue-and-cheek, like about the unmitigated exposure it gave me. But that’s a very self-serving answer. I think that something that I, personally, really appreciated about him was that, it’s not that it was a black man in the White House, it was that it was a person very much like me in the White House—raised very much like me in regard to demographics. That’s the thing, even to this day, eight years later, that I’ll miss the most. It’s a personal thing as opposed to a policy thing or a politics thing—it’s just personal. That somebody who looks like me and is me, demographically, would be in charge of the free [world] seems still to be a dream to me.
Sadie Dupuis - writer, musician
Aside from his humor and eloquence and style, all of which he possesses in surplus, I'll miss the graciousness with which Obama pushed for reform in an increasingly socially conservative country. His election as president and the landmark diversity of his staff were a profound statement on the importance of inclusivity in a country with so many cultural and racial identities that are not well represented or protected by a lineage of white, straight men in office. His support of the LGBTQIA community, immigration reform, the introduction of affordable health care, and protection of our environment have been unparalleled by another presidency.
Melanie Lynskey - actor
I’m a huge fan. Well, first of all, Michelle Obama’s speeches are... it’s crazy, it’s amazing. They always make me cry.
RJ Cyler - actor
It was an actual family. Obama wasn’t in office by himself. The presidencies that I’ve been around for, it just feels like the president is only there. You only see “Mr. President.” The thing I really loved about Obama was that his family was right there too, but they never let the presidency become something that ruined them. He and Michelle were like this [fingers interlocked]. They remind me of my parents: They dance, they’re not afraid to show affection for each other, and they show love. I feel like it was an open family. I really love that. And it might just me being Southern as hell, but you know, when you see true genuine happiness, and to show genuine happiness while running this crazy-ass country that I love so much––you're alright with me. Shoot, just running a clothing store is hard, so imagine running an entire country. I have unspeakable respect for the Obamas. They’re just amazing, man.
Jena Friedman - writer, comedian
Oh, where to start? I'll miss the little things, like kindness, class, dignity, integrity, and having hope. I'll miss our president not being Vladimir Putin, I'll miss our work-in-progress democracy. I'll miss not losing sleep over women's rights, human rights, and free speech being eroded. I'll miss the planet... oh, and being funny, as opposed to just being angry and sad all the time. I'll miss that too.
Kate Mara - actor
Oh god, that’s a hard question. I just find his speeches very inspiring. I mean, he’s still doing it, and I guess he can kind of always do that, but I think he’s a great speaker and he always says something that I just say, "Oh god, that was well, well said." But I don’t know, I’d have to spend a lot of time thinking about that to come up with a better answer.
Adria Arjona - actor
Everything! Everything about that man. He’s just... he’s a good human—him and his wife are good people. Without getting too much into politics—I don’t want to—they’re good people. I really hope that Trump surprises us. That’s all that I can hope and pray for. I really hope that he wakes up and becomes a good president. I hope, I hope. That’s all I want.
Chloe x Halle - musicians
Halle: [Michelle Obama's] gracious energy and her light. The way she commands a room and the way she speaks to you, how she looks you in your eyes. She’s such an incredible being. I’m so happy that we had the chance to meet her and sing for her and for Mr. Obama. We’re really really going to miss them.
Chloe: Just being alive to witness what they have done is so amazing. She’s just a goddess inside and out.