Barack Obama
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Welcome back, sir. We need you.

Barack Obama pledged to help prepare the next generation of leaders, calling it the “single most important thing I can do” as the former president.

In his first public appearance since leaving the White House, Obama credited his experiences as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side with laying the foundation for his political career and influencing the themes he spoke of as a lawmaker and president.

The former president offered some post-office introspection, saying his first political failure, in a bid for a U.S. House seat in the 1990s, was because he sought office for the wrong reason — “because it’s the next thing.” He said he needed to figure out not what he wanted to be, but what he wanted to do, before he became politically successful.

Former President Obama stepped into the spotlight Monday for the first time since leaving the White House, but he steered clear of commenting on President Trump.

“What’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” he said with a smile as he sat down, flanked by six students.

Obama focused much of his introductory remarks Monday on local politics and his post-election goal of helping to “knock down some of the barriers discouraging young people from a life of service.”

He also laid out a list of challenges that he said are facing the country, including climate change, criminal justice reform, economic inequality, and violence.

“All these problems are serious, they are daunting, but they are not insoluble,” Obama said. “What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life.”