"So ... uh ... what's been going on while I've been gone?" he joked on Monday at the University of Chicago while taking his seat, a reference to both his public absence and his successor.
As many Democrats across America have spent the opening days of President Donald Trump's administration protesting and calling their representatives in Congress, Obama vacationed. Photos of him kitesurfing as well as standing on the top deck of a 138-meter yacht snapping a photo of his wife Michelle, showed a man enjoying presidential retirement despite Trump, who's threatening to dismantles his signature legislation and who once questioned his citizenship.
Obama's post-White House demeanor is unbothered, confident and cool, and his dress Monday reflected that.
Ties are a mainstay of Washington and politics. And for the eight years of his presidency, Obama was rarely seen without one, except when on vacation or the campaign trail, appealing to voters. When he wanted to appear presidential, the tie was there.
Post-presidential, it seems, is an entirely different look.
Ties became part of the presidential uniform beginning in the late 1800s -- Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president, wore a long, light-colored tie for his official portrait rather than the black bowtie many of his immediate predecessors wore -- and the look of the 20th century presidency is one largely decorated by neckties.
The exception has been campaigns, where candidates from Obama and Mitt Romney, to George W. Bush and Al Gore have gone tieless, often with sleeves rolled up, to show a more casual, but still presidential look.
The 2016 campaign featured a different style, with a man whose name was once used to sell a line of ties running against the first-ever female nominee of a major party, their choice of casual dress often was defined by a "Make America Great Again" hat or a colorful pantsuit.
Although Trump did appear on the campaign trail on occasion without a tie, it was a markedly different look than past candidates. But the red power tie was his signature color, a change from the pink and gold ties he often wore in as star of "The Apprentice," and easily identifiable in political cartoons, Halloween costumes, and on impersonators.
Trump showed up to his first White House Easter Egg roll in a full suit with a red tie. Perhaps it was the weather — the 2017 roll was overcast — or perhaps a return to a more traditional style for a 70-year-old president compared to his predecessor. Obama, who left office at age 55, was in his 30s when "casual Fridays" entered the cultural lexicon. He saw Mark Zuckerberg, a twentysomething known for his wardrobe of grey t-shirts and hoodies, become one of the richest men in America. Obama showed up every spring for the annual Easter Egg roll in a dress shirt sans tie.
Ties have been on the downswing in the American workplace for some time. Before Obama took office, a 2007 Gallup poll found just 9% of Americans wore formal business clothes to work
. And Obama was not working on Monday. Just another former president giving a speech at a university.
Obama's remarks Monday were absent much of what the left today is talking about. He didn't mention Trump, or use phrases like "this is not normal" or "nevertheless, she persisted."
"The most important thing I can do for my next job," he said, was, "prepare the next generation of leadership."