The 7 most memorable Massachusetts moments of Barack Obama’s presidency

President Barack Obama speaks at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. –Spencer Platt / Getty Images

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In a way, it all started in Boston.

Just two years into his career in Washington, D.C., then-Sen. Barack Obama walked onto the FleetCenter stage on the Tuesday night of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In 15 minutes, the little-known Illinois senator delivered a speech in which he introduced his unusual name and singular life story to a divided country in the name of uniting it.

Four years later, Obama was elected president of that country.

Twelve years later, he is handing over the reigns to a still-divided nation to President-elect Donald Trump. During his two-terms, the charismatic president left the country with scores of memorable moments—including a particular few for the state where he first put his name on the map.

1. The post-Marathon bombings speech

Obama at the alter at Cathedral of the Holy Cross for an interfaith service following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. —David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

On the Thursday after the 2013 Marathon bombings, President Obama visited Boston to mourn the three people killed in the attack and reaffirm the “undaunted” spirit of the city.

“Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again,” Obama said to thundering applause inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. His full speech can be read here.

More than 2,000 people filled the pews of the cathedral at the interfaith service, in which Obama was joined by Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Gov. Deval Patrick, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and even former Gov. Mitt Romney, who had challenged the president in the 2012 election just five months earlier.

“This doesn’t stop us, and that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston,” Obama said, invoking the symbolism of the marathon. “That’s what you’ve reminded us—to push, to not grow weary, to not get faint, even when it hurts. We finish the race.”

Later that afternoon, the FBI released photos of two suspects in the attacks. The next day, following a shootout with police in which his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured in Watertown.

2. The Big Papi selfie

After presenting the president with an “Obama 44” Red Sox jersey, David Ortiz and Obama posed for a “selfie”. —Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

Following their 2013 World Series championship, the Boston Red Sox made the customary trip to White House to meet the president.

It started out innocent enough. The team gave Obama a replica Red Sox jersey. And as Obama showed off the gift, David Ortiz asked the president for a selfie.

However, the photo, which of course went viral, was perhaps not as it seemed. Samsung, with which Ortiz had previously signed a “social media insider” deal, retweeted the photo. Suddenly, we had a presidential selfie scandal.

As The Boston Globe reported at the time:

…what seemed like a spontaneous moment at the time later appeared to be more of a marketing ploy. Samsung had contracted with Ortiz to be a social media ambassador, and encouraged him to take photos with his Galaxy Note 3 phone during his White House visit.

Both Ortiz and the Red Sox maintained that the selfie was a fun, impromptu idea by Ortiz, rather than a marketing ploy. But the photo nonetheless earned a rebuke from the White House, which was concerned about the appearance of the president’s likeness being used for a profit.

“Perhaps maybe this will be the end of all selfies,” Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer told Face the Nation later that week.

3. “Deval, you’ve done good, man”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick got an unexpected call during his last appearance as governor on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio in late 2014.

“Governor, this is Barack Obama, formerly of Somerville. I’ve got a few complaints about service in and around the neighborhood, but I’ve moved down south since that time,” Obama said, surprising Patrick, a close friend since the two first met more than two decades ago in Chicago.

During the radio appearance, Obama was ribbed for his pronunciation of Massachusetts and for all the parking tickets he received in Cambridge and Somerville while attending Harvard Law School.


But after the jokes, Obama gave Patrick genuine praise for a number of the governor’s accomplishments during his two-term tenure.

“Deval, you’ve done good, man,” he added.

4. Tim Thomas’s snub

The Bruins visit the White House in 2012. —Susan Walsh / AP

Somehow, the Big Papi selfie wasn’t the only White House visit mini-scandal with a Boston sports team during Obama’s presidency.

After the Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup, star goalie Tim Thomas opted to skip the team’s White House visit the following January. The decision by Thomas, citing political beliefs, ignited a firestorm of criticism, both from inside and outside the Bruins organization, for being an unnecessary distraction to a nonpolitical event.

In a statement, Thomas said he believed the size of the federal government had “grown out of control” and that both parties were responsible.

In the goalie’s East Room absence, Obama only mentioned Thomas for his performance in the Stanley Cup Final and how he was just the second American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is given to the NHL postseason MVP.

5. Remembering Ted Kennedy

Less than a year into his first term, Obama traveled to Boston to mark the passing of a “colleague, mentor, and, above all, a friend.”

At the 2009 funeral, Obama eulogized Ted Kennedy and remembered the late Massachusetts senator as a symbol of the way government used to work, prior to the current hyper-partisan era.

“We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers’ rights or civil rights,” Obama told a star-studded crowd at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Hill.

“And yet, as has been noted, while his causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did,” Obama said, later adding, “He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and platform and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect — a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.”

The full eulogy can be read here.

Six years later, Obama returned to dedicate the Edward M. Kennedy Institute at the museum’s 2015 opening in Dorchester, adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

6. Shouting out Spotlight

This photo provided by Open Road Films shows, from left, Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson, Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr., and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, Spotlight. —Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films via AP

Following Spotlight‘s Best Picture win at last year’s Academy Awards, Obama made a point of highlighting the work of The Boston Globe journalists that inspired the movie. At a ceremony in March for the Toner Prize for political journalism, the president called for more accountability journalism.

“Hollywood released films about getting stuck on Mars, and demolition derbies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you even had Leo DiCaprio battling a grizzly bear,” he said. “And yet it was a movie about journalists spending months meticulously calling sources from landlines, and pouring over documents with highlighters and microfiche, chasing the truth even when it was hard, even when it was dangerous.  And that was the movie that captured the Oscar for Best Picture.”

Later that spring, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the president brought up Spotlight again in a joking reference to the current state of mainstream journalism.

“As you know, Spotlight is a film about investigative journalists with the resources, the autonomy, to chase down the truth, and hold the powerful accountable,” he said. “Best fantasy film since ‘Star Wars.’”

7. A return to his old stomping grounds at Harvard

This undated file photo provided by the presidential campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama shows the president while a student at Harvard Law School. —Obama Presidential Campaign / AP

A familiar byline popped up in the Harvard Law Review last week.

With just 15 days left in his presidency, Obama published a lengthy commentary in the prestigious journal, of which he also used to be president. The 55-page article summarizes the recent accomplishments and existing challenges in criminal justice reform and reportedly “went through the same rigorous editing process that every other Law Review submission endures.”

And lest some believe this was another 11th-hour effort to highlight Obama’s accomplishments, it apparently wasn’t even the Obama administration’s idea. Michael Zuckerman, the current HLR president, told the Washington Post that the review reached out to Obama through intermediaries in August about the “dream scenario.”

In 1990, a then-28-year-old Obama was elected as the first black HLR president.

”It’s encouraging,” Obama told The New York Times at the time. ”But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.

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