May 9th, 2010
10:59 AM ET
13 years ago

Democracy needs informed people, Obama tells grads

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="President Obama received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree after giving the commencement address Saturday at Hampton University."]
(CNN) - Democracy needs an educated and well-informed population to work, President Barack Obama said Sunday in a commencement speech at one of the nation's historically black colleges.

Obama told graduates at Virginia's Hampton University that he hoped their education had opened their minds, and added, "Now that your minds have been opened, it's up to you to keep them that way."

"And it will be up to you to open minds that remain closed that you meet along the way," Obama said. "That, after all, is the elemental test of any democracy: whether people with differing points of view can learn from each other, work with each other, and find a way forward together."

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Obama said that "if a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... it expects what never was and never will be."

"What Jefferson recognized, like the rest of that gifted founding generation, was that in the long run, their improbable experiment - called America - wouldn't work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were
apathetic, if its citizens checked out and left democracy to those who didn't have their best interests of all the people at heart," Obama said.

"It could only work if each of us stayed engaged; if we held our government accountable; if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship," he said.

Obama also said the graduates at Hampton's 140th commencement ceremony were "ahead of the curve," and joked that "All those checks that you or your parents wrote to Hampton will pay off."

"But I don't have to tell you that too many folks back home aren't as well prepared," Obama said. "By any number of different yardsticks, African-Americans are being outperformed by their white classmates, as are
Hispanic-Americans. Students in well-off areas are outperforming students in poorer rural or urban communities, no matter their skin color."

He called on the new graduates to not only succeed in their work, but also to serve as role models and mentors in their communities.

Filed under: Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. aliceinflorida9

    The Campaigner-in-Chief at work yet again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 9, 2010 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  2. wake-up

    What a joke. Why didn't Obama explain to the grads that many of them will be unable to writeoff the interest on there student loans because they make to much. Check the phase out rules

    May 9, 2010 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  3. Ruth

    Obama is exactly right. All these people and ex governers who mouths are loose cannona are a disgrace to this country. Sooooooooooooo–know what you are talking about before you open your mouth. In other words–BE INFORMED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 9, 2010 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  4. logical74

    Well said. An uneducated populace is easy to frighten and manipulate, which is clearly the way some people want it.

    However, it is ironic that he kept quoting Thomas Jefferson, who is largely credited with shaping the public school system that Obama would like to see privatized, regardless of how ineffective and harmful such efforts have been.

    May 9, 2010 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  5. NVa Native

    As the Founders declared an educated and intelligent citizenry is important for the continuance of our democracy. That is why "TV for the simple minded" (Fox media) that feeds peoples desire of grandeur is so dangerous. When a media outlet only cares about furthering a political agenda for the purpose of profit with very little factual content being presented as truth and roughly 27% of the population "believe" the message that is a dangerous thing. Through in hate radio with religious and social intolerance and we have a volatile mix that creates the "American Idiot" who breed and justify these terrorists like McVey, Nichols, Rudolph, Krar, blasphemous "the army of god" and many more.

    May 9, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  6. Fed Up!

    Would be nice if those students listened to Obama!

    Of course if that happens,the current crop conservative legislators and candidates would have to change their way of doing business as fear and lies would no longer work.

    May 9, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. Klaxon McFlinderginder

    Nice thought, but closed minds stay closed. Closed-minded people aggressively protect their ideology-based delusions from the influences of reality or other ideas. They are to busy thinking up the next retort to actually listen.

    This is the great age of closed minds. American politics is a cross between a carnival freak show and a soccer riot.

    May 9, 2010 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  8. John Q.

    I just wish he would practice what he preaches more as his part as President ... "fulfill the obligations of citizenship" ...and put some effort into securing the border. Do your job Mr. President!

    May 9, 2010 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  9. Tim

    Click your heels and say there is no place like home. That seems to be this administration's belief as they are clearly out of touch with the reality of the world today. Can CNN give us a count of how many times Obama has strongly condemned a nation over nukes or terrorist support with no genuine action to back it up.

    If we lived in the land of make believe he's on the right track, I'm just not naive enough to buy into that, and unfortunately we will undoubtedly pay a severe price for this inaction. I would say I'm concerned over all of this, but that would be great understatement.

    May 9, 2010 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  10. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    I did not realize that interest on student loans was a major issue facing us today. Years ago, I paid my low interest college loans back, and was grateful that I was able to get a college degree, even though I was not wealthy. I would like to say, "wake-up" to those naysayers who continually look for the bad in what is good.

    May 9, 2010 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  11. art in kingwood

    Well educated people should expect honesty from their president. And Mr. Obama is probably the least honest president in over a century. From saying "its not true that the government is taking over healthcare" to "I am not a socialist" he shown he is a fundamentally dishonest individual.

    May 9, 2010 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  12. Djinn

    Sad to say, a college education does not necessarily open minds. It is only an opportunity to come to see the world in a way that presents many different ways of being and the tolerance to live together among those ways. Many now do not take the opportunity to learn that basic lesson.

    May 9, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Maybe the scientist are right and eveloution is the reason .

    May 9, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  14. art in kingwood

    We all know what classes George Bush took in college, we know his grades, we know his medical history, tax history. We hear his friends from years past talk about him.

    But we know nothing about any of this about Obama. He has it all locked down. And his friends who are dedicated Marxists/Maoists/Weather Underground support his systematic destruction of the U.S. and are not going to stop that by talking about their common interests.

    May 9, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  15. Ryan

    I can't wait to hear how this will be spun. Here is our president, being the elitist that he is, calling Americans ignorant. Now the government is sticking it's fingers into the motivational speaking sector!

    May 9, 2010 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  16. Dieter Zerressen

    Obama and progressives are only asking you to become educated and think for yourselves. Its the conservatives and the Limbaugh and Beck crowd who want you to absolutely think like they do. Remember, the "its my way or the highway" philosophy under Bush? Of course you don't! They want you to forget all that – "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" – so that they can do it all over again down the road.

    May 9, 2010 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  17. Jerry - Florida

    The Hypocrite-in-Chief: What he really needs to tell students is not to lie their heads off. No matter what, always tell the truth. And most of all, man up to your decisions.

    Also, remind the students that we live in America where dissent is a right.

    May 9, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  18. AJ

    Democracy also needs real leadership, something the Obama administration has been lacking. Meaningful healthcare failed due to the Obama administrations refusal to get in the trenches and get their hands dirty. DADT is still in place because we have a president more concerned with electoral politics than he is in doing the right thing. This is not the mark of a geat leader. It is, sadly, just more of the same.

    May 9, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  19. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    I am beginning to think that all right wingnuts are liars. They just make up crap and attack the president.

    May 9, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  20. Dan, TX

    What Obama told those students is at the very core of conservative principles, yet people here can't help but blurt out nonsense and lies about our president. I will eliminate as many conservatives as possible with my money and my get out the vote efforts. I am a conservative, and I support President Obama against these ignorant fools who condemn him because the have been brainwashed against him.

    The republican party has become a jumble of unorganized, incoherent, self-conflicting, ideologies.

    May 9, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  21. Vince Calhoun

    President Obama has changed much of the way things work in America, and has been successful in the short term destruction of a free enterprise society. Nonetheless, Barrack propaganda and thought manipulation has not affected core realities or truth, and it cannot because what he says is not the truth. There remains a strong mass of American citizens who will restore our country long after the era of Obamaism is gone. This man has greatly polarized and divided a natiion. He refuses to defend the citizen from invasion and pillage.
    Obama is mis-guided and has created a mess.

    May 9, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  22. ThinkAgain

    What President Obama said to this graduating class is why I so strongly support him: He GETS that our country's greatness rests on the shoulders of educated, open-minded people. We are an innovative, inventive nation because of the intelligence, open-mindedness and creativity of our people.

    – We couldn't have gotten to the moon without educated, open-minded people.

    – We couldn't have invented so many cutting-edge technologies without educated, open-minded people.

    – We couldn't have developed and furthered medical science without educated, open-minded people.

    – We never would have been founded in the FIRST PLACE without educated, open-minded people.

    The President is asking us to do and be our best. He believes in the potential of our people, and has faith that we can meet our current challenges, succeed and prosper into the future.

    And I whole-heartedly agree with him. Thank you, Mr. President!!

    May 9, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  23. Minesh - troy, MI

    Obama is right – Democracy needs educated minds. Unfortunately his union crowd hates education – they only believe in indoctrination.

    Dissenters are persecuted – ask the students in CA who were thrown the door when they wore American flags.

    May 9, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  24. dennisinttn

    it's a shame that obama hasn't, doesn't, and most likely will never be able to show any examples that he ever used any of these grand ideas.

    May 9, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |