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Published: Saturday, 5/1/2010

President Barack Obama urges new Michigan graduates to get involved and stay informed


ANN ARBOR - President Barack Obama issued an appeal for more civility in the public square as he urged new graduates of the University of Michigan to maintain a strong and informed civic involvement in his commencement address here Saturday.

Mr. Obama said voices portraying government as "inherently bad" drive people away from politics.

"You can question somebody's views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism," Mr. Obama said. "Throwing around phrases like "socialists" and "Soviet-style takeover" and "fascist" and "right-wing nut" - that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes," he said.

More than 8,500 graduates received their degrees Saturday in Michigan Stadium after most of them trudged through pouring rain to take their places. Clouds and thunder continued to threaten but no rain fell during the ceremonies on a crowd that filled all the available seats. The playing field was a seat of black robes and mortar boards. It was noted that the Mr. Obama was the first President most of the Class of 2010 could have voted for.

The President was enthusiastically received.

He told graduates that they should read newspapers and Web sites that challenge their held views, and urged the maintenance of "a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads."

He said the government has some roles only it can do. Among them, "Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them."

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm welcomed Mr. Obama and thanked him for his support of Michigan's automobile industry.

"GM, Ford, and Chrysler have bright futures today when one year ago darker clouds than these loomed overhead," Ms. Granholm said.

Mr. Obama was the third sitting president to deliver Michigan's graduation speech. Preceding him were George H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson.

The President alluded to a speech in 1960 by John F. Kennedy at the campus, then a candidate for president, in which he proposed the Peace Corps.

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