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President Obama Caps Long Goodbye With Farewell Speech

The president delivered his last major speech in his hometown on Tuesday night, where he made a forceful defense of his achievements while laying out a hopeful vision for the future.
Image: President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Jan. 10.
President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Jan. 10.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Obama said farewell Tuesday night to a nation he helped transform during his eight years in the White House.

Riding high in the polls but just days away from handing over the reins to a Manhattan mogul who has vowed to dismantle much of his legacy, Obama chose to make his final address as commander-in-chief in the city where he launched his unlikely and boundary-breaking political career — Chicago.

Related: The 15 Most Telling Quotes of Obama's Presidency

There Obama, who won the White House for the first time in 2008 on the message of “hope and change,” told supporters who have been with him from the start to take heart and not despair as he laid out a forward-looking vision for America.

"For all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen," Obama told the boisterous crowd.

"Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.

If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose."

Speaking to NBC News' Lester Holt Tuesday aboard Air Force One, President Obama said he hoped he could properly convey the gratitude he felt, both for his staff and his supporters.

"You know when you when you reflect back on eight years, for all the highs and the lows, the one thing that is a constant is the incredible dedication of the people who got you there," Obama said, adding that he meant everyone from his staff to "the people who, you know, would say that the work we did made a difference."

"I think that that sense of gratitude that I feel for those folks, I just hope I'm able to express that," he said.

Related: The Obama Era: The Last Eight Years in Pictures

For Obama, the address before a hometown crowd capped a long goodbye during which he’s reminded Americans where the nation was back in 2008, when the economy was in free fall and the country was mired in two unpopular wars — and how far the country has come since then.

Obama buttressed his case with a battery of statistics as he touts the accomplishments of his two terms, which among other things includes a record 75 straight months of job growth, more than 15 million new jobs, a long-awaited rise in hourly wages — and the removal of Osama Bin Laden as a threat to America.

Related: Then vs. Now: Obama's Presidency, By the Numbers

The Obamas have welcomed the Trumps to the White House, stressed national unity and chosen to focus on the smooth transition of power.

Image: People Line Up For Tickets To Attend President Obama's Farewell Address
People wait in line, most for two or more hours, in sub-zero wind chill temperatures outside McCormick Place to get tickets for President Barack Obama's speech on Jan. 7 in ChicagoScott Olson / Getty Images

First Lady Michelle Obama, who like her husband remains a widely popular public figure, had tears in her eyes last week as she delivered a stirring goodbye speech.

“Being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life,” she said. “And I hope I made you proud.”

Obama will deliver his speech at McCormick Place, which sits on the city's lakefront and is the largest convention center in North America. Some 14,000 people are expected to attend, the Chicago Tribune reported.

More of Lester Holt's interview with Obama can be seen in a one-hour NBC News primetime special that airs this Friday at 10 p.m. ET/9 CT.