Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Great Obama--a Guest Post

I thought the following might be interesting for you to read. It was written by one of my best friends from law school, Jerry Sorkin. He has given me permission to post it here. Jerry is a tremendous and remarkable person--I wish I could be more like him: This was posted to his John Hopkins Care Pages website. For more than a year, he has been battling Stage IV lung cancer. He is doing amazingly well, and his optimism, humor, humanity and expansiveness are an inspiration. No one who has ever met him has failed to be impressed--or to have become a friend. He's just a lovely human being. So read on. . .and if you wish, keep Jerry and his family (wife Lisa and daughters Emma and Claire) in your thoughts and prayers:

The Great Obama

Twenty years ago, I was a first year law student. I can’t remember who came up with the nickname for our classmate, but there were a few of us who called him “The Great Obama.” I don’t think we ever called him “The Great Obama” to his face – it was a nickname that grew out of the kind of admiration and jealousy that you might expect from first-year Harvard Law students, who all had very high opinions of themselves as well.

From the beginning of law school, he stood out. Smart, articulate, a leader. Ironically, he stood out, in part, for having “real world experience.” Most of my classmates had come to law school straight from college. Barack was a few years older, and when he spoke he could talk about his experience outside of the classroom in a way that few others could.

Not surprisingly, Barack got a lot of airtime in class. And sometime during first year, I learned to do an impression of him that made friends laugh. I can’t do that impression anymore. Over the years his rhetorical skills have improved far more than my ability to impersonate. But every time I hear him interviewed, if he uses the phrase “my sense is…” or uses the word “folks” when he means “people”-- I laugh, remembering him talking in class during our first year of law school.

You could tell from the moment you met him that Barack would do great things; he had the charisma and leadership ability that just made him stand out. But no --- I certainly would not have predicted that he would run for and be elected president. I don’t know that any of our classmates can honestly say that they could have foreseen what has happened since.

When he decided to run for President I had my doubts – too inexperienced, too soon in his political career. But I supported him because of what I and my classmates had seen in him 20 years ago. He was smart, honest, hard-working, cool, and open-minded. Law school was a place with its ideologues on both sides, but Barack was willing to listen to and work with people regardless of their political beliefs. I didn’t think he could win (I had my doubts until Fox news called Ohio for him on Tuesday night), but I figured if he did it would be great. Barack has the characteristics that I wanted to see in my president.

Across the last two years, we have done our tiny part to support his campaign. We’ve had yards signs and bumper stickers for the first time. We’ve attended fundraisers, I’ve made phone calls, Emma and I have been canvassing in Virginia. We’ve even eaten Obamaburgers. And we got on the local TV news for doing so:

I spent the last few days of the campaign volunteering in Virginia, helping to get out the vote. On Monday, the final day of the campaign, we went as a family to canvass in Manassas, Virginia. We stayed that evening to attend the final rally of the campaign -- along with 80,000 other supporters --- at the Prince William County Fairgrounds.

It was very important to me to bring the girls – even though Claire fell asleep before Barack spoke at 10:30 p.m. I wanted them to be a part of history at the rally. To remember that they heard Barack Obama speak the night before he was elected president. But even more importantly, I wanted them to help – even a tiny bit -- on the campaign. I wanted to help drive home the lesson of the importance of working for causes you believe in. It is not enough to sit home and watch it on TV and to wish for something to come true – if you want something to happen, you need to work for it.

One thing that amazed me about the Obama campaign was how many people I know got involved. We had friends and relatives volunteering in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida. And many of these were folks like me: People who had never been involved in a campaign before – and they were traveling to battleground states to try to make a difference. Yes, a few of them were law school classmates – but the vast majority was not. They were simply moved by this election to take action.

I believe that – whatever your political beliefs -- electing the first African-American president is both an historic moment and one that makes you proud to be an American. It has been so moving for me to speak to people who see Barack’s election as a validation of the American dream. To speak with immigrants and people of color who can now say to their children honestly, “In America, you can grow up to be anything you want, even President.”

I believe in Barack Obama, and despite the horrible state of current affairs, I believe he and his administration will be able to help right the ship of this country. I believe it because of the character of the man I met 20 years ago. I believe it because I think he will attract a new generation of the “best and the brightest” to come to work in government again. And I believe it because of his (and his campaign’s) ability to motivate millions. If he can run a government half as well as he ran a campaign – as a country, we will be in good shape.

I haven’t done much celebrating since Tuesday night. In part, I’ve been in shock. In part, I’ve just been exhausted. I put all my energy into those last few days of the campaign. But I did not want to wake up the day after the election and see that Barack had lost Virginia by a few votes and know that I might have been able to contribute. Even in some tiny way.

The election has held such a fascination for me, I am certain to go into withdrawal over the next few weeks. Luckily, we have the transition and the inauguration to look forward to.

Oh, and if someone can score tickets to the Inaugural Ball where Springsteen is going to play…let me know.



Oh, and (Karen here. . .), for those who want to know Jerry's background, his undergraduate degree is in economics from Yale and he has spent most of his working life in business-and finance-related fields...


Mom101 said...

I love hearing this perspective. It's very similar to the one expressed by a friend of mine, also a Harvard classmate. I was struck how both of them described him as "hard working," as opposed to ambitious. I think the difference says everything.

Karen said...

Okay, first I have to say--cutest pic-EVER.

Thanks for the comment. Unlike Jer, though, I remember a few people way back when joking about Barack becoming POTUS.

I've been a big supporter for all the reasons Jerry (and you) cited, as well as for Barack's thoughtful and nuanced takes on very difficult and complex issues (well ain't that a refreshing change? . .and, okay, let's be honest, how cool is it when one of your classmates becomes the leader of the free world?). Now, superstitious mama that I am, though, I can only repeat the following plea over and over. . ."Please don't fuck it up, please don't fuck it up. . ."

I have no doubt, however, that Barack will work his butt off and surround himself with the best and brightest. . .I'm keeping my fingers crossed for our country.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for passing on Jerry's view. I am an Obama supporter too and love hearing the perspective of someone who "knew him when."

Most of all, I would love to contact Jerry. My husband also has lung cancer and was diagnosed as stage IV in April 2005. I would appreciate being able to help support and encourage Jerry and his family. I can be reached through flwater at hotmail.

I truly believe there is always hope. Look at my husband, look at President-elect Obama!

Karen said...

Anon--thanks so much for your comment. I will pass your info on to Jerry--I bet he'd love the support. And I'll be keeping my fingers crossed and hopes high for your husband and your family.

bill martineau said...


Thanks for the post and I was hoping that you could pass along my contact information to Jerry. I just got back in touch with a couple of elementary school friends (Warnsdorfer in E. Brunswick, NJ) and they made me aware of Jerry's situation and would like to touch base.

Bill Martineau

Karen said...

Sure, Bill--you just want me to direct him to your website?