Newly published letters from Obama to his former girlfriend shed light on his youth

  • New letters published by Emory University show a young Obama who is “caught without a class, a structure, or a tradition.”
  • The letters document his a time in his life when he was still finding his sense of self in the 1980s in New York City.

Emory University has published excerpts of several letters written by former President Barack Obama to his girlfriend at the time that focus on an uncertain yet promising period of his life.

The letters were written between 1982 and 1984, spanning the time when he was a senior at Columbia University in New York City to the years immediately after his graduation, during which he also visited his childhood home of Indonesia.

The young Obama described feeling lost amid his international surroundings in 1982 in New York City.

“Caught without a class, a structure, or a tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me. … The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions, classes, make them mine, me theirs,” he wrote. “Taken separately, they’re unacceptable and untenable.”

Obama laments the meager earnings in his profession of choice.

“Salaries in the community organisations are too low to survive on right now, so I hope to work in some more conventional capacity for a year, allowing me to store up enough nuts to pursue those interests next,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, despite his apparent existential dilemmas, he wrote that he hoped to involve himself in the things he cared about.

“My ideas aren’t as crystallised as they were while in school, but they have an immediacy and weight that may be more useful if and when I’m less observer and more participant,” he wrote.

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