COLUMBUS — One year to the day after he formally launched his re-election campaign on the campus of Ohio State University, President Obama was back today, daring more than 8,200 of the Class of 2013 "to do better" than the great accomplishments of America's past.
"From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will," he said.
While vowing not to be partisan, he urged the graduates to fight cynicism, to not allow anyone to convince them they can't make a difference, and to have the political will to make the tough changes to deal with such things as climate change and gun violence.
He brought his remarks around to current gridlock in Washington, urging the graduates to avoid the temptation to retreat into their own lives, leaving the task of governing to others.
"That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want," he said. "That’s how our political system gets consumed by small things when we are a people called to do great things like rebuild a middle class, reverse the rise of inequality, repair a deteriorating climate that threatens everything we plan to leave for our kids and grandkids.
"Class of 2013, only you can ultimately break that cycle," said Mr. Obama, in a black robe. He told them they were graduating into an economy that is "steadily healing."
Although Mr. Obama is delivering other commencement speeches this graduation season, this one brought him full circle. Mr. Obama formally launched his re-election campaign at nearby Schottenstein Center, counting on the students there to help him carry what was considered a must-win state. He campaigned on campus four other times over the last 16 months, including an unannounced stop at the Sloopy's restaurant at the Ohio Union.
Only Mr. Obama mistakenly today called it "Sloppy's."
"It's Sunday, and I'm coming off a foreign trip," he offered as an excuse.
While conceding that institutions on Wall Street let the country down, particularly leading into the last deep recession, he echoed his campaign rhetoric as he strongly defended government as a whole.
"Unfortunately, you grew up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works, or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner," Mr. Obama said.
"You should reject these voices, because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
"We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn't want it to," he said. "But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government."
Ohio State's graduating class of 10,143 was the second-largest in university history, roughly 500 shy of last year's record class. Of the graduating seniors, about 8,200 attended Sunday's ceremony along with tens of thousands of their family and friends.
Mr. Obama became the third sitting president to speak at an Ohio State commencement, following George W Bush in 2002 and Gerald Ford in 1974. Former President Bill Clinton spoke in 2007. The university gave the President an honorary doctorate of laws degree.
Louise Weiner, of Powell, had two graduates in the crowd. Son David, 23, was handed his bachelor's diploma in psychology and economics while his sister, Jennifer, 27, earned her master's in science and nursing.
“To have the current president makes it so exciting,” Mrs. Weiner said.
Her third child, Jeff, 29, about to graduate with a medical degree from the University of Toledo, never saw Mr. Obama when he came through Toledo. But he was on hand to see the President and his two siblings receive degrees today.
He voted for Mr. Obama twice, the first time largely because of the President's pledge for universal health coverage. He voted for him a second time, a little less enamored with the final result of that campaign promise.
“Having everyone insured is a step in the right direction,” he said. “It's not a perfect solution.”
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