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About 60 Ontario young people from low-income neighbourhoods met Barack Obama on Friday in Toronto and the former U.S. president did not disappoint.
Obama spoke at a lunchtime event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in the city’s downtown. In his speech, he encouraged the audience, including the young people from Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, and Kingston, to get involved in politics.
Then he crashed a photo op that the group was having with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“How’s everybody doing?” Obama asked the crowd. “Good!” the crowd shouts back.
“These are the outstanding young leaders I’ve been hearing about,” Obama said.
The former president shook hands with every young person in the room.
“I was like starstruck. I was like, wow,” Farihah Chowdhury said. “He took the time to actually shake hands with everyone.”
The young people interviewed have all taken part in Pathways to Education, a program that provides academic, financial, social and individual support to youth from low income communities. The program helps them graduate from high school and move into post-secondary education, training or meaningful employment.
The alumni of the program said they were grateful for the opportunity to meet the former president.
“It was absolutely surreal,” Maddy Ross said. “It was overwhelming.”
For Leandre Nawej, Obama was inspiring when he spoke about civic engagement and when he made time for the group.
“He wanted us to be active in our communities,” Nawej said.
“He just told us to be the leaders and to take hold of our potential and that we can go out and make a difference. That was really important for us to hear.”
Nawej said meeting Obama in person made a big impression on her.
“It shows us, no matter where you’re from, to be able to interact with somebody on such a huge platform, that we have the hope of one day getting there as well,” she said.
Obama was in Toronto to speak at an event organized by the think-tank Canada2020, and he packed the room with an estimated 3,000 people. In his lunchtime speech, he reassured the crowd about Canada’s relations with the U.S,
“Canada, I think you guys are doing great,” Obama said, earning a round of applause from the crowd.
“I think in many ways the relationship between our two countries has not radically changed,” he said.
“There is probably a different conversation taking place between governments, but the connections that we have between people, our commercial bonds, our cultural bonds, are so deep that they transcend any particular party and they transcend any particular moment.
“It is not enough for us to look backwards and just settle on the traditional recipes of the progressive movement because the world is changing rapidly,” he said.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, along with Wynne and Tory, was there.
Obama took to the stage came just hours after Hillary Clinton, his former secretary of state and the woman who tried to succeed him, landed in Toronto as part of her book tour.
A huge thanks to @Canada2020 for providing Pathways students with opportunity to meet @BarackObama today! #graduationnation #FutureLeaders pic.twitter.com/his6ffjpXE