Hope. It's the word that went missing. Missing from the minds of ordinary Americans, missing from our nation's political dictionary, missing from our collective sense of what is possible. At long last, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States on Tuesday signaled that hope has come home.
Across this country, a record number of Americans and millions of new voters who had fallen through the cracks in the past spoke out and made history. We the people chose our first African-American president, a man who has tapped into what is best in our national character. In so doing, we sounded the death-knell of the last eight years and announced that progress is on the way.
From the rocky coasts of the Pacific Ocean to the rolling hills of North Carolina, Obama has transcended the cynical politics that cleaves on race, region and class. He is our president. His victory reminds us that we are indeed the United States of America and worthy of that title.
So as we struggle to make sense of this euphoric moment, to express its deep meaning and the way in which it will change our lives, we are awed by what we have just seen: the re-birth of a democracy.
At presstime, Obama was leading in unofficial results in North Carolina. And so it appears that we have also seen our state buck its traditional party identity to join the nationwide chorus for change.
On Duke's campus, we have witnessed our peers passionately engage in shaping their future, emboldened by the political process. In a very real sense, this election hinged on a generational difference, and we have seen the power of young people to deliver votes and motivate the community.
But the process of change did not and must not have ended Tuesday. If it did, then we have misunderstood Obama and failed ourselves. The massive challenges we face in the years ahead can only be solved if we turn to face them as a nation.
In the uproar of this day, we cannot forget that we now face two wars, a broken education system, millions suffering without health care, a damaging addiction to oil, a global climate crisis and an economy sliding into depression.
Now is the time to remember that change does not consist of a speech or a campaign. Change consists of what you do every day in the long grind, when the cameras are off. All this election has done -- and this is not insignificant -- has been to give us something to work for: the confidence that this country can take control of its collective future.
Start today. Read the newspaper, volunteer in the Durham community, join Americorps, recycle, pay attention to the world. Use your immense abilities to be the change that you want to see in the world.
Now, more than ever, this country needs its citizens to be active participants, not pessimistic bystanders. In the words of a former president, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
After a long 21 months, we finally have the opportunity to put the division and partisanship of a presidential contest behind us and to move forward with grace. John McCain's concession speech set this reconciliatory tone Tuesday, and his humility and service provide an excellent standard that we should all strive to emulate.
Today we celebrate the return of hope and the sense of possibility that it brings. Tomorrow we get to work.