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Thousands in Chicago Brave Cold for Tickets to Obama Farewell Speech

  • VOA Staff

People brave the cold temperatures in hopes of getting a ticket to attend President Barack Obama's farewell speech in Chicago, Jan. 7, 2017.

Thousands of people waited for hours in single-digit temperatures on Saturday to try to get a ticket to President Barack Obama's farewell speech in his hometown of Chicago, saying they want to show their appreciation and soak in the final moments of his history-making presidency.

People began lining up well before sunrise for the 8 a.m. ticket distribution. The lines stretched for blocks and snarled traffic around McCormick Place, the sprawling convention center along Lake Michigan where Obama will speak on Tuesday night.

"You never know when something as huge or as phenomenal like this will happen again, so I was like 'I'm not missing this for nothing,' " said Umar Ibrahim, 28, who took the day off from his job as a city bus driver to snag a ticket, waking up at 3 a.m. to start the trek to the convention center.

"Just talking about it makes you beam," he said as he clenched his ticket, grinning from ear-to-ear.

Obama's final speech to the public will continue a tradition set in 1796 when George Washington addressed the American people for the last time as president. It will be followed by a "family reunion" for alumni of Obama's former campaigns, according to a save-the-date sent to alumni.

Obama has described the event as "a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey," to celebrate the ways the country has changed and "to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here."

Cheryl Bellamy-Bonner, 56, of Chicago, carpooled with four female friends and relatives beginning at 3 a.m. Saturday to get a ticket to President Obama's farewell speech at McCormick Place. She has been an Obama supporter since volunteering on Obama's US Senate race and says she wants to hear from Obama on Tuesday what he's going to do next and "how we can help."
Cheryl Bellamy-Bonner, 56, of Chicago, carpooled with four female friends and relatives beginning at 3 a.m. Saturday to get a ticket to President Obama's farewell speech at McCormick Place. She has been an Obama supporter since volunteering on Obama's US Senate race and says she wants to hear from Obama on Tuesday what he's going to do next and "how we can help."

For many supporters, Obama's decision to give the speech in Chicago rather than Washington added to the significance of the event. It was in Chicago's Grant Park that in 2008 he delivered his victory speech after becoming the nation's first black president.

"He's coming home," said Cheryl Bellamy-Bonner, 56, who volunteered on Obama's 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. "It shows he really cares about the people."

Bellamy-Bonner said she appreciated Obama's professionalism in office and his support of diversity. If there have been any disappointments, she said, it's that he couldn't accomplish more, which she blamed on a lack of bipartisanship. On Tuesday night, she's hoping to hear what Obama will do next and "what we can do to help."

Organizers didn't say how many tickets were available, but many people walked away empty-handed on Saturday.

Among them was Stacy Bond. The 28-year-old from suburban Evanston said she's disheartened about President-elect Donald Trump and wanted to be in the room to hear directly from Obama, the first president she voted for after reaching the legal voting age.

"You kind of want to hold on to that last bit of him that we've had," she said.

The White House says the farewell address also will be streamed live online. Obama will be joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

WATCH: President Obama's weekly address

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