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CHICAGO (CNN) -- Popular but politically humbled, President Barack Obama said goodbye to the nation Tuesday night, declaring during his farewell address that he hadn't abandoned his vision of progressive change.
"This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it," Obama said from a packed hall of supporters in his adopted hometown.
"After eight years as your President, I still believe that," he went on. "And it's not just my belief. It's the beating heart of our American idea -- our bold experiment in self-government."
In coming to Chicago, Obama was hoping to capitalize on a well of goodwill that's expanded in the final year of his tenure. He discarded the staid Oval Office or East Room for his last formal set of remarks, choosing instead the city where his political rise began and where he declared victory in 2008 and 2012.
Inside a vast convention hall packed with more than 20,000 of his most ardent supporters and former staffers, the mood was wistful. Ahead of his address, aides described the normally unsentimental commander in chief as nostalgic.
Obama's speech is the capstone of a months-long farewell tour, manifested in extended magazine interviews, lengthy television sit-downs, and the White House's own efforts to document the President's waning administration.
Through it all, Obama has sought to highlight the achievements of his presidency using statistics showing the country better off now than eight years ago. He's offered a rational view of Trump's election and rarely lets on to any apprehension about his future as an ex-president.
First lady Michelle Obama has offered a more candid view in a scaled-back version of her own farewell. She sat for an hour-long interview with Oprah Winfrey, frankly admitting that Democrats were now "feeling what not having hope feels like."
And she became emotional during her final set of formal remarks at the White House Friday, her voice quaking and eyes welling with tears as she told a crowd of educators: "I hope I made you proud."
The first lady's subdued but deeply felt departure stands in sharp contrast to the President's own farewell speech Tuesday. Upwards of 20,000 people are expected to view the address at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America where Obama declared victory over Mitt Romney in 2012.
Obama had been planning his speech for months, aides said, formulating the broad themes while on vacation over the holidays in Hawaii and developing drafts starting last week.
He told aides months ago that he preferred to deliver his farewell address in his hometown, a first for a departing President. George W. Bush, unpopular and facing a financial crisis, delivered his final prime-time address in the White House East Room to a crowd of 200 supporters and aides.
Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all used the Oval Office -- a setting Obama has long spurned for formal remarks. George H.W. Bush traveled outside of Washington to West Point for a departing address after failing to secure a second term, though he didn't actually bill it as a farewell.
The tradition extends back to George Washington, who issued warnings against unchecked power and partisan entrenchment in a written address to the nation in 1796.
Like major addresses in the past, Obama wrote his speech himself, dictating passages to his chief speechwriter Cody Keenan who puts the President's words into print. Obama returned the drafts with heavy annotations, writing his changes in a tightly compressed scrawl on the margins.
The President and Keenan went through at least four drafts of the farewell speech, an official told CNN Tuesday. The broad themes of the speech came together while the President was in Hawaii and he started reading a first draft on the long flight home last Sunday.
Aside from Keenan, several familiar names from the past were involved in the drafting, including former speechwriter Jon Favreau and former senior adviser David Axelrod.
When he returns to Washington in the early morning hours of Wednesday, it will be Obama's 1,293rd -- and final -- flight aboard Air Force One. He'll use the presidential aircraft on Inauguration Day to depart Washington. But with only a former president aboard, it's known simply as a "Special Air Mission."
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