COLUMBUS, Ohio — In his first commencement address of this year’s graduation season, President Obama encouraged more than 10,000 graduates gathered at Ohio State University to pay heed to their duty as citizens and become active participants in their country in the years ahead.
“This democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that it is not about what America may do for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government and to he class of 2013 you have to be involved in that process,” Obama said as he delivered the commencement address before more than 57,000 people at the football stadium at Ohio State University.
The president drew on recent tragedies, from the Boston marathon bombing to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as he relayed the way actively engaged citizens have rallied together in the country’s time of need.
“Just look at the past year. When a hurricane struck our mightiest city, and a factory exploded in a small-town in Texas. We saw citizenship. When bombs went off in Boston, and when a malevolent spree of gunfire visited a movie theater, a temple, an Ohio high school, a first-grade classroom in Connecticut. We saw citizenship. In the aftermath of darkest tragedy, we have seen the American spirit at its brightest,” he said.
“And that’s what citizenship is. It’s at the heart of our founding – that as Americans, we are blessed with God-given talents and inalienable rights, but with those rights come responsibilities – to ourselves and to one another, and to future generations,” he said.
But as he offered his advice to the graduates, he acknowledged that this duty must also be renewed by lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
“In Washington – well, this is a joyous occasion, so let me put this charitably: I think it’s fair to say our democracy isn’t working as well as we know it can. It could do better,” he said.
The president told the students that before you can reach success, you must endure failure, pointing to basketball legend Michael Jordan and himself as examples.
“We remember Michael Jordan’s six championships, we don’t remember nearly 15,000 missed shots,” he said. “As for me, I lost my first race for Congress, and look at me now – I’m an honorary graduate of The Ohio State University!”
The president was presented with an honorary doctorate along with photographer Annie Liebovitz, Yale Professor Thomas Pollard and Reinhard Rummel, whose career focuses on studying the earth’s gravity field.
Obama traveled to Ohio numerous times during the presidential election last year and referenced one of his stops at Sloopy’s, which he mispronounced as he imparted some advice on the new graduates.
“One time, I stopped at Sloppy’s to grab some lunch. Many of you – it’s Sloopy’s, I know…I’m coming off a foreign trip,” he joked. “Many of you were still eating breakfast at 11:30 on a Tuesday. So to the class of 2013 I’ll offer my first piece of advice early: enjoy it while you still can. Soon, you will not get to wake up and have breakfast at 11:30 on a Tuesday. And once you have kids, it gets even earlier.”
As he closed out his address, he challenged the Class of 2013 “to do better.”
“Look at all America has accomplished. Look at how big we’ve been. I dare you class of 2013 to do better. I dare you to dream bigger,” he said. “From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will. I wish you courage, and compassion, and all the strength you need for that tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”