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‘Muhammad Ali Will Always Be America’: President Barack Obama’s Speech

Washington: President Barack Obama spent Friday celebrating his daughter’s high school graduation in Washington, but he sent senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Louisville, Kentucky, to read his moving speech.

“Muhammad Ali was America,” Jarrett said, “Muhammad Ali will always be America. What a man, what a spirit, what a joyous, mightiful champion.”

The parallel between a champion and his country were poignant. Obama’s speech made clear that Ali was complex and not always easy to define.

“The man we celebrate today is not just a boxer or a poet or an agitator or a man of peace,” Jarrett read. “He was not just a Muslim or a black man or a Louisville kid… He wasn’t even just the greatest of all time. He was Muhammad Ali.”

What did that mean? Obama said Ali was “brighter and more original and influential than just about anyone of his era.

“You couldn’t have made him up,” Jarrett read. “And yes, he was pretty too.

“It seemed sometimes the champ was too big for America,” she noted, before drawing out the comparison. Like his country, Ali was “brash, defiant, pioneering, joyful, never tired, always game to test the odds.

“He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit,” she said.

“Like America, he was always very much a work in progress. We do him a disservice to gauze up his story, to sand down his rough edges, to talk only of floating like butterflies and stinging like bees.”

She called him a “radical.”

“His jabs knocked some sense into us – yes, they did – pushing us to expand our imagination and bring others into our understanding. Now there were times when he swung a bit wildly – that’s right – wound up and accidentally might have hit the wrong opponent – as he was the first to admit. Through all his triumphs and failures, Ali achieved the enlightenment and inner peace that we are all striving towards.”

© 2016 The Washington Post