"America is a critical actor and leader on the world stage, and that we shouldn't be embarrassed about that, but that we exercise our leadership best when we are listening," he said. "When we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries; when we lead by example; when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."
That tone and rhetoric continued as the president hop-scotched around the globe in the next several months.
One key moment was Obama's speech in Cairo, which fulfilled a campaign promise that he speak in a Muslim capital in his first year in office.
Speaking to an audience of roughly 3,000 people at the University of Cairo, Obama called for "a new beginning" between the United States and Muslims across the globe in a highly anticipated speech, arguing that to move forward both sides need to hold a frank discussion about the causes of recent -- and not so recent -- tensions.
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition," Obama said. "Instead, they overlap and share common principles; principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."
Obama dispatched his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, around the world to extend his message of cooperation and to tackle challenges to global security such as budding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
In her first meeting with her Russia counterpart, Clinton pledged to "reset" relations with the old Cold War foe, comments that came months after the two countries butted heads over two breakaway regions in the country of Georgia on Russia's border.
In China, Clinton spoke about cooperation with the emerging superpower. Both trips, however, were not without mistakes. On the way to China, to the disappointment of advocacy groups, Clinton told reporters on her plane that the United States would not let Beijing's human rights record interfere in the two countries' relations.
During the meeting with the Russians, Clinton presented her counterpart with a "reset" button, written in Russian. But the word was mistranslated as "overcharge."
Clinton was well received in many stops from Indonesia to Ireland as the Obama administration's message of change and hope combined with her own star power to overcome opposition to U.S. policy that existed during the Bush administration.
But she was met with some resistance at many stops. During a trip to Pakistan, skeptical audiences blasted U.S. policy there that, under the Obama administration, has included an increased reliance on drone attacks on suspected militant sites inside Pakistan.
In India, Clinton was publicly rebuffed by officials when she asked for cooperation on climate change ahead of December's climate change summit in Copenhagen, an effort that itself fizzled in the end.
Obama's rhetoric evolved during the course of the year. He dropped the supplicating tone while speaking abroad, not beseeching foreign audiences to like America again. And he spoke less about turning the page from the Bush Administration.