(1.)Visiting the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. - Carolyn Caster, AP (2.) Exiting Air Force One. -Charles Dharapak, AP (3.) At the National Christmas Tree lighting on the White House Ellipse. -Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images(4.) The first lady at a "Let's Move" event. -Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images (5.) Awarding a Medal of Honor to Sgt. Dakota Meyer. -Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images (6.) Malia with family dog Bo. -Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images (7.) Touring the MLK Jr. memorial. -Mike Theiler, EPA (8.) Tending the White House garden. -Evan Vucci, AP (9.) Returning from a tour of Latin America. -Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP (10.) Congratulating Google Science Fair winners. -Pete Souza, The White House (11.) With daughter Sasha. -Madnel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images (12.) Helping on a community service project. -Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images (13.) The family during a visit to Rio de Janeiro. -Pete Souza, The White House (14.)Returning from a Christmas trip to Hawaii. -Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images (15.) Visiting with a family graveside at Arlington Cemetery. -Toby Jorrin, AFP/Getty Images / See above
On behalf of the entire Obama family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season. For us, the holidays are a chance to eat some good food, sing some holiday songs (occasionally out of tune), affirm our faith, and spend time with the family and friends who make our lives so blessed.
Over the past year, Sasha and Malia have continued to amaze Michelle and me with their steadiness and poise. One highlight was when Michelle and the girls accompanied me on my first official trip to South America as president. One evening, after a day of meetings and cultural programs, we visited the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. As we stared up at this wonder of the modern world, I knew it was a moment the girls wouldn’t soon forget, particularly since it was one of the few times I didn’t have to remind them to turn off their iPods.
I’m also incredibly proud of the way the girls have handled the pressures that come with living in the White House. Whether it’s handling their schoolwork, playing basketball, tennis and soccer, or just hanging out with friends, they’re able to do all the things kids their age normally do. It’s hard to believe Malia’s already a teenager. The first time I saw her dressed up to go to a Bat Mitzvah party, all I could think about was how happy I was that she’d be accompanied by large men with guns.
Michelle is doing well, and has been hitting the road almost as often as I have. In April, she and Dr. Jill Biden launched a partnership called “Joining Forces” to support our nation’s military families. She even appeared on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to build a brand new house for Barbara Marshall, a 15-year Navy Veteran. And for a second year, her Let’s Move! campaign got children excited about healthy eating and exercise.
When I see Michelle standing with a proud military family, or leading kids in jumping jacks on the White House lawn, it reminds me how lucky I am to have her. People always tell me I “married up,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Of course, it’s been a bit of a busy year for me as well. I turned 50 this August, and my family and friends joined me here at the White House to celebrate. My drive to the hoop has slowed a bit, but I took on a new role as the substitute coach for Sasha’s basketball team. And as long as Michelle still thinks I’m cute, I can handle being a little older and grayer.
The most humbling and inspiring part of my job continues to be my role as Commander in Chief. When I visit our troops at bases across the country or in the field, I’m awed by their commitment to service. Many of these men and women are only seven or eight years older than Malia, and they take on enormous responsibilities with courage and skill.
While it’s impossible to thank our troops and their families enough, I try to do everything I can to let them know that Americans are united in our gratitude. Once a month, we bring wounded warriors for a private tour of the White House, and every Fourth of July, we invite military families and veterans to join us for the fireworks and a barbeque. At Arlington National Cemetery, Michelle and I have spent quiet moments with Gold Star families, to honor their loved ones who gave their lives serving overseas. Nothing I say can ever fill the hole in their hearts, but I want to make sure they know how much our country appreciates their sacrifice.
One of the most memorable days I’ve had as President took place in May, when I went to Fort Campbell to personally thank the Special Operations Forces who delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. Even though we felt there was a fifty-fifty chance that bin Laden was at that compound, I made the decision that I did because I was a hundred percent confident in these men. They are unbelievable.
In July and September I had the honor of presenting the Medal of Honor to Leroy Petry and Dakota Meyer, two young men who risked their own lives to save others during firefights in Afghanistan. When my staff spoke with Dakota a few days before the ceremony, he asked if it would be possible have a beer with the President. I was honored to oblige, and we shared a few cold ones on the Rose Garden patio.
On September 10th, Michelle, the girls and I went to DC Central Kitchen, a local non-profit, where we helped make a batch of gumbo for those in our neighborhood who don’t have enough to eat. I was proud that my family could join the thousands of Americans who commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 through service. And Michelle and I could not have been more moved to join families at Ground Zero, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, as we remembered those we lost on that tragic day.
We welcomed many groups of young people to the White House this year, and seeing them so hopeful and full of energy made it impossible not to be optimistic about the future. Thirty thousand parents and children came to the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. I also had the chance to meet several kids through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and their strength and warmth inspired me.
Another highlight of this year was meeting the winners of the Google Science Fair. Ten thousand kids applied, from 90 different countries. I was thrilled, but not at all surprised, that the winners were three teenage girls from America. So I had them over to the Oval Office, and they explained their projects to me, while I pretended to understand what they were talking about.
Of course, 2011 had more than its share of tough times. For many Americans, this was a far more difficult year than most. Every day, I read letters from parents who had trouble putting food on the table, teachers laid off due to budget cuts, or young people who couldn’t repay their student loans. It breaks my heart to hear from people who are trying so hard, and still struggling to get by. Their stories inspire me to do everything I can to help make their lives a little easier in the coming year.
I’m in awe of all the Americans I meet who refuse to give up hope, even in these difficult times. And as tough as things may be right now, I know we will overcome.
I know it because we always have, and I was reminded of this one night in October, when Michelle, the girls and I were able to see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. We read the quotes etched into the stone. We looked up at the statue of a man who never stopped dreaming of a brighter future. And we were moved by the example of a leader who inspired ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
It can be strange, living in the White House. After all, every time my family piles into the car, Secret Service piles in with us. But there at the Memorial, as we held hands in silence, we were just another American family. We felt the way I hope you feel, as you celebrate the holidays: surrounded by the ones we love, confident in the promise of tomorrow, and blessed to live in this great country.