Obama Gives Wesleyan Commencement Address in Place of Kennedy

By Lee Speigel

May 25, 2008 2:06pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., paid homage to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s service to the country while he "pinch-hit" for him, delivering the commencement address at Wesleyan’s graduation ceremony.

Amid 15,000 people, Obama passed on a message from Kennedy, D-Mass., who had asked the presidential candidate to speak on his behalf.

"I’d like to start by passing along a message from Ted," Obama said, and then read words from Kennedy: "To all those praying for my return to good health, I offer my heartfelt thanks. And to any who’d rather have a different result, I say, don’t get your hopes up just yet!"

Obama said he was glad to know Kennedy’s sense of humor is as strong as ever, and told the Connecticut crowd that Kennedy couldn’t be there because he is at home resting since being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

With Kennedy’s wife Vicki and stepdaughter Caroline Raclin (who was graduating from the university) listening in the audience, Obama reminded the students of Kennedy’s contributions to America, adding, "And I have a feeling that Ted Kennedy is not done just yet."

Using the Kennedy legacy for a platform, Obama’s commencement address was a call for the students to serve their country.

"There’s no community service requirement in the outside world — no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy," Obama said. "You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s. But I hope you don’t."

Obama used his own life story as an example to the graduates, retelling his biography and rise into the political arena.

"I spent much of my childhood adrift," Obama said of his upbringing, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. "My teenage years were filled with more than the usual dose of teenage rebellion, and I’ll admit that I didn’t always take myself or my studies very seriously."

Obama said it was through service that he began to find his way –- and challenged each of the near-700 graduates to do the same.

"You don’t have to be a community organizer or do something crazy, like run for president, "Obama joked of his own story. " Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come."

Obama largely avoided presidential politics in his 25-minute address. This is his first commencement speech of the graduation season.

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