Obama dares Ohio State graduates 'to be better'
May 5th, 2013
03:37 PM ET
7 years ago

Obama dares Ohio State graduates 'to be better'

Columbus, Ohio (CNN) - President Obama told graduates Sunday that "the institutions that give structure to our society have at times betrayed your trust" but called on young people to take a more active role in the political process as part of the solution.

Obama delivered his first commencement address of the spring to nearly 10,000 graduates at The Ohio State University in Columbus. He urged students to reject the "voices" that "incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's the root of our all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works."

On the stage in Ohio Stadium, Obama told the crowd that "your democracy does not function without your active participation. At a bare minimum, that means voting, eagerly and often. It means knowing who's been elected to make decisions on your behalf, what they believe in and whether or not they deliver."

His comments came exactly one year after Obama went to the heart of the key battleground state of Ohio to officially kick off his re-election campaign with a rally at The Ohio State University.

On Sunday he called for voters to hold officials accountable, saying, "if they let you down, there's a built-in day in November where you can really let them know that's not OK."

"I'm not going to get partisan, because that's not what citizenship is about," the president said. And he invoked the words President George W. Bush used in a graduation address in the same stadium, saying, "America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens."

But Obama seemed to refer to the congressional defeat of stronger background checks for gun buyers and other parts of his domestic agenda when he told the graduates, "when we abdicate that authority, we grant our silent consent to someone who'll gladly claim it. That's how we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda, policies detached from what middle-class families face every day, the well-connected who publicly demand that Washington stay out of their business, then whisper in its ear for special treatment that you don't get. That's how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want."

The president's remarks came as the administration vowed that the defeat of the background check measure was not the end of the fight. Obama spoke out on the gun issue on his trip to Mexico City last week, and Vice President Joe Biden wrote a Sunday opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle as the National Rifle Association met there.

Obama called on graduates on "harness the ingenuity of your generation" to tackle issues like gun violence, climate change, road and airport repairs and education. "We can always aspire to something more. That doesn't depend on who you elect to office. It depends upon you as citizens, how big you want to be, and how badly you want it.

"I dare you to do better", he added, "I dare you to be better. From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will".

In his Ohio State speech, Obama said he's been "obsessed" with the idea of keeping citizenship alive at the national level, "not just on Election Day or in times of tragedy," because he spends most of his time in Washington, "a place that sorely needs it."

He told the students "you don't have to run for office yourself," later saying, "only you can ultimately break the cycle."

In lighter moments during the commencement, Obama donned a black hat with an Ohio State O on it. He joked about speaking at archrival University of Michigan graduation in 2010, referring to a "certain university up north."

To laughs, he said he had been to OSU's campus five times recently and added, "to be fair, you did let President Ford speak here once, and he played football for Michigan."

Obama teased students about eating breakfast so late, at 11:30 a.m. when he dropped by a campus eatery during one stop. But he mispronounced the name of Sloopy's, named for the song that's an OSU tradition. He asked for forgiveness, noting that it's a Sunday after a foreign trip. He returned from Costa Rica on Saturday evening.

Filed under: Ohio • President Obama
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    USA is so blessed to have him. It is the time for young to involve in political process to work for the nation without greed and ulterior motives.

    May 5, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. Catmandew

    Obama makes another speech big deal. How about he does his job and starts workin for the American people who elected him! Instead of whining about the circumstances he was left with or goin to Mexico makin promises to them. Or campaigning for his party at our expense close to 50% did not vote for Obama so alot of us that didn't would like him to do his job.

    May 5, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  3. Michigan patriot

    USA is so blessed to have him? REALLY? We are cursed. The young people need to hear those "voices," about the corrupt government we have, starting with him. He is accountable too, unfortunately people made the wrong choice, and he knows it; we can not tell him in November that is not O.K. He has his friends whispering in his ear for special treatments, and they get them at all times. How he can read his speech with a straight face, is beyond me.

    May 5, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  4. Michael

    Technically, it is possible to agree that tyranny is not lurking around the corner.
    Because it is entering into your house. Carried in your wallet. Baking in your kitchen. In your child's standardized test.
    Why would the Professident even tell people who are learning to think for themselves what views to reject or accept?

    May 5, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  5. Thomas

    USA is so blessed to have him. It is the time for young to involve in political process to work for the nation without greed and ulterior motives.

    Yes , it's great to witness truthful insperation as well as compassion .

    May 5, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  6. Catmandew

    Boy I feel sorry for those Ohio grads! We are so cursed to have such a bozo as President. The nerve of him challenging those grads to do better. When he himself can't even do his own job! We still have gridlock in DC, his jobs ideas have been a waste of time. His healthcare law has about Akilled most small businesses. Meantime he is busy worrying about immigration of all things, lets keep Mexico happy! They don't pay you Obama we do! When will you start doin Obamas job that Obama was elected to do? Do what's best for American citizens not Mexicans or Unions or anyone else.

    May 5, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  7. Catmandew

    Why are we cursing those poor Ohio grads forcing them to listen to Obama? I truly feel sorry for them.

    May 5, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  8. Catmandew

    I hope they let his speech go in one ear and out the other. He has been the most useless politically motivated President we've had in quite awhile. He has a lot of nerve challenging anybody to do better. I challenge Obama to do his job, and act in Our best interest, I know he won't so it doesn't really matter!

    May 5, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  9. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Cue conservative wing nuts who will undoubtably try to politicize this. Come on guys. EVERY President has spoken at graduations before. This is nothing new.

    May 5, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  10. Donkey Party

    Cue right-wing head explosions in 3,2,1...

    May 5, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  11. Larry McIntyre

    Hey Obama, shut up and stop trying to destroy the country. You are a Commie piece of garbage

    May 5, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  12. Donna

    So was Obama honest with them??? Did Obama wish them all luck in finding a job because a very large number will not thanks to Obama and his failed policies. Or did he tell them they were in luck because now they can go back home and live in their parents basement for 5 years while their parents get saddled with their medical coverage because they can't find a job? But I'm sure he told all those kids that he will ultimately saddle them with 10-12 TRILLION in debt to repay down the road, in addition to all the debt they rang up only to be under or unemployed now. Oh, and by the way, since Obama has no interest in fixing social security or medicare, they probably won't be there for these kids. Yeah, didn't think so... Obama, the most dishonest, divisive President this country has ever had.

    May 5, 2013 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  13. Name Uche Agonsi

    This is fatherly. Its so peaceful, so relaxing. Is there any food menu like warpie in US Universities?......these breeds should cultivate peace, laugh & cry peacefully.....no get involved in long term wars without achievable objectives.

    May 5, 2013 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  14. Justin

    You think young people aren't greedy or have ulterior motives? lol... These graduates are about to have to face their student loans, with little to no work that matches the price they payed for their education. Then face a national debt that is unpayable within their life times, and not have any of the retirement safe nets prfovided to their parents. Only the greedy there will thrive.

    May 6, 2013 04:53 am at 4:53 am |