"What's been going on?": Obama makes first public comment since leaving office

Speaking at the University of Chicago, the former President refused to comment on Trump

"What's been going on?": Obama makes first public comment since leaving office

Former President Barack Obama at the University of Chicago. Image: Chicago Tribune/TNS/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

Barack Obama has managed to avoid the spotlight since leaving the Oval Office, opting instead to vacation with Bruce Springsteen, kite-surf with Richard Branson, and be Michelle's Instagram husband.

This week, the former President returned to the public eye, making his first public comment since his presidency finished.

In a nearly 90-minute forum at the University of Chicago, Obama avoided criticising his successor President Donald Trump, instead choosing to outline lessons he learned as a young community organiser in Chicago decades ago.

As well as vowing to help bring up the next generation of leaders, he declined to comment on issues like healthcare and foreign policy.

"I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job?" Obama said onstage. "The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership, to take up the baton, and to take their own crack at changing the word."

Former President Barack Obama gestures at a discussion with six Chicago-area students at the Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus. Image: Chicago Tribune/TNS/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

Travel ban

At no point in the conversation did Obama get explicitly political - barring subtle insinuations during a discussion on immigration, referring to many undocumented workers as simply "families who are looking for a better life for their children."

He said: "It's not like everybody on Ellis Island had all their papers straight. The truth is, the history of our immigration system has always been a little bit haphazard, a little bit loose."

The 55 year-old reflected on his own journey to Chicago at 25, when he was "filled with idealism and absolute certainty that somehow I was going to change the world."

"But I had no idea how," Obama said. "I am the first to acknowledge that I did not set the world on fire. Nor did I transform these communities in any significant way."

Fake news

Obama highlighted how the media is becoming increasingly politicised, suggesting that the move is at least partially responsible for encouraging division within the US.

"The internet in some ways has accelerated this sense of people having entirely separate conversations," he said. "If you're liberal, then you're on MSNBC. If you're a conservative, you're on Fox News."

He also cautioned young people on being more conscious of how they use social media in their daily lives.

"If you had pictures of everything I'd done in high school, I probably wouldn't have been President of the United States [...] I would advise all of you to be a little more circumspect about your selfies and what you take pictures of."