Obama at ASU: Commencement Speech with intro by Michael Crow | Arizona State University

Obama at ASU: Commencement Speech with intro by Michael Crow | Arizona State University

August 15, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Now my job is a is a very difficult one.
How do you introduce a person that everyone already knows but nonetheless, I
want to put the president’s introduction into context because I found myself the
last few weeks studying his syllabi from his classes and looking at grading
mechanisms that he had in place and looking at a number of things that he’s
written and it’s a fantastic story. So, it is my honor and my privilege to
introduce to you and I’m going to walk through this, our president, let me begin
with the following. Let me walk through why the
president’s visit here is so important for this institution, for this state and
for our country. Barack Obama is a man of intellect
devoted to the common good which is a rare thing, a rare thing. Barack Obama is a man who’s journey from boyhood teaches us all about the power
of a single life with purpose and each of our graduates should remember this. Barack
Obama is a man who’s understanding of the dream of and for America knows no
limit. That dream often about a limitless America however comes from a different
point of view often, it comes from those that have benefited from economic
success of their parents or the social status of their family and sometimes
those that view the limitless dream of the United States, have a fanciful view
of our history. A view that’s often inaccurate. Sometimes, and this is rare,
this understanding of America’s true greatness and our potential comes from a
deep understanding of the need to drive change and that fact is in fact America
as the statement of change itself. The fact that America represents what the
change has been that we have moved from around the world, that’s the central
theme I want to focus on. Martin Luther King once said that change does not roll
in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. Barack
Obama understands from the experiences of his family both in America and Africa
his work in organizing communities in Chicago, his deep understanding of the U.S. constitution and his raw and powerful
intellect, that continuous struggle is to move us even closer to the ideal America.
In this ideal America the yolks that hold us back must be taken off to
create opportunity for success. One of those yolks has been the struggle to educate every child, to allow everyone
equal chance. Here, our history as a country has been long and difficult and
while progress has been made since the 1950s we remained far from the ideal. 25%
of our children, more than a million children per year don’t graduate from
high school and for those that do that come from the lowest socio-economic
grouping only 15 percent of them will have an opportunity to graduate from a
university. Mr. president no national leader before you has fully understood
the role of education, learning and knowledge in fulfilling the American
ideal, in advancing the continuous struggle for change, in studying your
life and your achievements as a community organizer, constitutional law
professor and a statesman, I can see your fantastic awareness of the enigma of our
present America. How is it that we have changed so much and yet have so much
further to go? You realize that our constitution and thus our civil rights,
our voting rights and our right to be educated is not a static thing but in
fact is a constantly evolutionary ideal. It is this evolutionary process that you
see change as essential to our life, to our future as Americans. You see an
America where all children graduate from high school and most go on to
college at some level. In this change process you see an
America where every talent can be tapped and every dream has real potential. Mr.
president you have already taken many bold steps to improve our nation and to
move us forward. You have changed, I believe already, how we conceive
education. Education is now a national civic duty. It is not a privilege it is a
civic duty. You have given hope to all who dream
about what they can be and as I’m increasingly beginning to see as a
common activity you’ve lit a fire under all of us to move America forward
using our ideas and our creativity. Mr. president we feel that fire, we share
your drive for change, we’ve heard your speech before Congress, saw you driving
us closer to the ideal, the better America, your expansion of Pell grants, your goals to educate all of America, your drive to have a great college
education not just a college education but a great college education to all who
work hard we hear you we join you in fact we join you by today committing to
you and to the people of Arizona that we will continue building ASU as an
egalitarian center for advanced teaching and learning and we commit to you also
that no Arizona student will be left out of this institution and what we have to
offer because of his or her family’s income. Mr. president we’re pleased to announce
the establishment of the Barack Obama Scholars Program and pledge to you to
work and fight to make accessible education the change that
takes America to the next level. It’s an honor to have you here with us this
evening, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. thank you thank you Thank You ASU! Thank you very much!
Thank you very much! Thank you so much! Thank you! Please, thank you very much!
Well, thank you! Thank you President Crow for that extremely generous introduction,
for your inspired leadership as well here at ASU. I want to thank the entire
ASU community for the honor of attaching my name to a scholarship program that
will help open the doors of higher education to students from every
background. What a wonderful gift, thank you. That notion of opening doors
of opportunity to everybody, that is the core mission of this school. It’s the
core mission of my presidency and I hope this program will serve as a model for
universities across this country so thank you so much. I want to obviously congratulate the
class of 2009 for your unbelievable achievement. I want to thank the parents,
the uncles, the grandpas, the grandmas cousins, calabash cousins, everybody who
was involved in helping these extraordinary young people arrive at
this moment. I also want to apologize to the entire state of Arizona for stealing
away your wonderful former governor Janet Napolitano. But you’ve got a fine governor here and
I also know that Janet is now applying her extraordinary talents to serve our
entire country as the secretary of homeland security keeping America safe
and she’s doing a great job. Now before I begin I’d just like to clear the
air about that little controversy everybody was talking about a few weeks back. I
have to tell you I really thought this was much ado about nothing but I do
think we all learned an important lesson I learned never again to pick another
team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. it won’t happen again. President Crow and
the Board of Regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS. Now in all seriousness, I come here not
to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. First of all Michelle concurs with that
assessment. She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me
when I get home but more than that I come to embrace the notion that I
haven’t done enough in my life. I heartily concur. I come to affirm that
one’s title, even a title like President of the United States, says very little
about how well one’s life has been led. That no matter how much you’ve done or
how successful you’ve been there’s always more to do, always more to learn
and always more to achieve and I want to say to you today, graduates
class of 2009, that despite having achieved a remarkable milestone in your
life, despite the fact that you and your families are so rightfully proud, you too
cannot rest on your laurels, not even some of those remarkable young people
who were introduced earlier, not even that young lady whose got 4 degrees she’s
getting today, you can’t rest. Your own body of work is also yet to come. Now
some graduating classes have marched into this stadium in easy times, times of
peace and stability. When we call on our graduates simply to keep things going
and don’t screw it up. Other classes have received their diplomas in times of
trial and upheaval, when the very foundations of our lives,
the old order has been shaken, the old ideas and institutions have crumbled and
a new generation is called upon to remake the world. It should be clear to
you by now the category into which all of you fall. For we gather here tonight
in times of extraordinary difficulty for the nation and for the world. The economy
remains in the midst of a historic recession, the worst we’ve seen since the
Great Depression, the result in part of greed and irresponsibility that rippled
out from Wall Street and Washington, as we spent beyond our means and failed
to make hard choices. We’re engaged in two wars and a struggle
against terrorism, the threats of climate change, nuclear proliferation and
pandemic define national boundaries and easy solutions. For many of you, these
challenges are also felt in more personal terms. Perhaps you’re still
looking for a job or struggling to figure out what career path makes sense
in this disrupted economy. Maybe you’ve got student loans, now you definitely
have student loans or credit card debts and you’re wondering how you’ll ever pay
them off. Maybe you’ve got a family to raise and you’re wondering how you’ll
ensure that your children have the same opportunities you’ve had to get an
education and pursue their dreams. Now in the face of these challenges it may be
tempting to fall back on the formulas for success that have been peddled so
frequently in recent years. It goes something like this, you’re taught to
chase after all the usual brass rings, you try to be on this who’s who’s list
or that top 100 list you chase after the big money and you figure out how big
your corner office is. You worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or
a fancy enough car. That’s the message that’s sent each and every day or has
been in our culture for far too long. That through material possessions,
through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf, that’s how you
will measure success. Now you can take that road and it may
work for some but at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, at this
difficult time, let me suggest that such an approach won’t get you where you want
to go. It displays a poverty of ambition that in fact the elevation of appearance
over substance of celebrity over character of short-term gains over
lasting achievement is precisely what your generation needs to help end. ASU I want to highlight — I want to
highlight two main problems with that old, tired, me first approach to life.
First of all it distracts you from what’s truly important and it may lead
you to compromise your values and your principles and your commitments. Think
about it, it’s in chasing titles and status in worrying about the next
election rather than the national interest and the interests of those who
you’re supposed to represent that politicians so often lose their ways in
Washington. They spend time thinking about polls but not about principle. It
was in pursuit of gaudy short-term profits and the bonuses that
came with them that so many folks lost their way on Wall Street. Engaging in
extraordinary risks with other people’s money. In contrast, the leaders we revere, the businesses and institutions that last,
they are not generally the result of a narrow pursuit of popularity or personal
advancement but of devotion to some bigger purpose, the preservation of the
Union or the determination to lift a country out of a depression, the creation
of a quality product, a commitment to your customers, your workers, your
shareholders and your community. A commitment to make sure that an
institution like ASU is inclusive and diverse and giving opportunity to all.
That’s the hallmark of real success. That other stuff — that other stuff, the
trappings of success, may be a byproduct of this larger mission but it can’t be
the central thing. Just ask Bernie Madoff that’s the first problem with the old
attitude. The second problem with the old approach to success is that a relentless
focus on the outward markers of success can lead to complacency. It can make you
lazy. We too often let the external, the material thing serve as indicators that
we’re doing well even though something inside us tells us that we’re not doing
our best, that we’re avoiding that which is hard but also necessary, that
we’re shrinking from rather than rising to the challenges of the age and the
thing is in this new hyper competitive age none of us — none of us can afford to
be complacent. That’s true. Whatever profession you choose. Professors might
earn the distinction of tenure but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll keep
putting in the long hours and late nights and have the passion and the
drive to be great educators. The same principle is true in your personal life.
Being a parent is not just a matter of paying the bills, doing the bare minimum,
it’s not just bringing a child into the world that matters but the acts of love
and sacrifice it takes to raise and educate that child and give them
opportunity. It can happen to presidents as well, if
you think about Abraham Lincoln and Millard Fillmore had the very same title.
They’re both presidents of the United States but their tenure in office and
their legacy could not be more different and this is not just true for
individuals, it’s also true for this nation. In recent years, in many ways,
we’ve become enamored with our own past success, lulled into complacency by the
glitter of our own achievements. We’ve become accustomed to the title of
military superpower, forgetting the qualities that got us there, not just the
power of our weapons but the discipline and valor and the code of conduct of our
men and women in uniform. The Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps
and all those initiatives that show our commitment to working with other nations
to pursue the ideals of opportunity and equality and freedom that have made us
who we are. That’s what made us a superpower. We become accustomed to our
economic dominance in the world forgetting that it wasn’t reckless deals
and get-rich-quick schemes that got us where we are but hard work and smart
ideas, quality products and wise investments. We started taking shortcuts,
we started living on credit instead of building up savings, we saw businesses
focused more on rebranding and repackaging than innovating and
developing new ideas that improve our lives. All the while the rest of the
world has grown hungry, more restless in constant motion to build and to discover,
not content with where they are right now, determined to strive for more.
They’re coming so graduates it’s now abundantly clear that we need to start
doing things a little bit different. In your own lives you’ll need to
continuously adapt to a continuously changing economy. You’ll end up having
more than one job and more than one career over the course of your life.
You’ll have to keep on gaining new skills, possibly even new degrees and
you’ll have to keep on taking risks as new opportunities arise and as a nation
we’ll need a fundamental change of perspective and attitude. It’s clear that
we need to build a new foundation, a stronger foundation for our economy and
our prosperity. Rethinking how we grow our economy, how we use energy, how we
educate our children, how we care for our sick, how we treat our environment. Many of our current challenges are
unprecedented. There are no standard remedies, no go to fixes this time around.
And class of 2009, that’s why we’re going to need your help. We need young people
like you to step up, we need your daring, we need your
enthusiasm, we need your energy, we need your imagination and let me be clear
when I say young I’m not just referring to the date of your birth certificate.
I’m talking about an approach to life, a quality of mind and a quality of heart, a
willingness to follow your passions regardless of whether they lead to
fortune and fame, a willingness to question conventional wisdom and rethink
old dogmas. A lack of regard for all the traditional markers of status and
prestige and in a commitment instead to doing what’s meaningful to you, what helps others,
what makes a difference in this world. That’s the spirit that led a band of
patriots, not much older than most of you, to take on an empire, to start this
experiment in democracy we call America. It’s what drove young pioneers west to
Arizona and beyond, it’s what drove young women to reach for the ballot, what
inspired a 30 year old escaped slave to run an underground railroad to freedom,
what inspired a young man named cezzah to go out and help farmworkers, what
inspired a 26 year old preacher to lead a bus boycott for justice, it’s what led
firefighters and police officers in the prime of their lives up the stairs of
those burning towers and young people across this country to drop what they
were doing and come to the aid of a flooded New Orleans to what led two guys
in the garage named Hewlett and Packard to form a company that would change the
way we live and work, what led scientists in laboratories and novelists in
coffee shops to labor in obscurity until they finally succeeded in changing the
way we see the world. That’s the great American story. Young people just like
you following their passions, determined to meet the times on their own terms.
They weren’t doing it for the money, their titles weren’t fancy, ex-slave,
minister, student, citizen, a whole bunch of them didn’t get honorary degrees but they changed the course of history
and so can you ASU. So can you class of 2009! So can you. With a degree from this
outstanding institution you have everything you need to get started
you’ve got no excuses, you have no excuses not to change the world.
Did you study business? Go start a company or why not help a struggling
not-for-profit find better more effective ways to serve folks in need. You study nursing? Under staffed clinics and hospitals across this
country are desperate for your help. You study education? Teach in a high needs school where the
kids really need you, give a chance to kids who can’t get everything
they need maybe in their neighborhood, maybe not even their home, but we can’t
afford to give up on them. Prepare them to compete for any job
anywhere in the world. You study engineering? Help us lead a green revolution,
developing new sources of clean energy. It will power our economy and preserve
our planet but you can also make your mark in smaller more individual ways.
That’s what so many of you have already done during your time here at ASU
tutoring children, registering voters, doing your own small part to fight
hunger and homelessness, AIDS and cancer. One student said it best when she spoke
about her senior engineering project building medical devices for people with
disabilities in a village in Africa. Her professor showed a video of the folks
they’d been helping and she said when we saw the people on the videos we began to
feel a connection to them. It made us want to be successful for them. Think
about that. It made us want to be successful for them. That’s a great model
for all of us. Find somebody to be successful for. Raise
their hopes, rise to their needs as you think about your life after graduation.
As you look into the mirror tonight, after the partying is done, that shouldn’t get such a big cheer. You
may look in the mirror tonight, you may see somebody who’s not really sure what
to do with their lives. That’s what you may see, but a troubled child might look
at you and see a mentor, a homebound senior citizen might see a lifeline, the
folks at your local homeless shelter might see a friend, none of them care how
much money is in your bank account or whether you’re important at work or
whether you’re famous around town, they just know that you’re somebody who cares,
somebody who makes a difference in their lives. So class of 2009 that’s what building a body of work is all about. It’s about the
daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up over
time, over a lifetime to a lasting legacy. That’s what you want on your tombstone.
It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star,
because the one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished.
It’s cumulative, it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best,
each day that you give back and contribute to the life of your community
and your nation. You may have setbacks and you may have failures but you’re not
done. You’re not even getting started, not by a long shot and if you ever forget
that just look to history. Thomas Paine was a failed corset maker, a failed
teacher and a failed tax collector before he made his mark on history with
a little book called common sense that helped ignite a revolution. Julia Child didn’t publish her first
cookbook until she was almost 50. Colonel Sanders didn’t open up his first
Kentucky Fried Chicken til he was in the 60s. Winston Churchill was dismissed as
little more than a has-been who enjoyed scotch a little bit too much before he
took over as prime minister and saw Great Britain through its finest hour. No
one thought a former football player stocking shelves at the local
supermarket would return to the game he loved, become a Super Bowl MVP, and then
come here to Arizona and lead your Cardinals to their first Super Bowl. Your
body of work is never done. Each of them at one point in their life
didn’t have any title or much status to speak of but they had passion, a
commitment to following that passion wherever it would lead and to working hard
every step along the way and that’s not just how you’ll ensure that your own
life is well lived, it’s how you’ll make a difference in the
life of our nation. I talked earlier about the selfishness, selfishness and
irresponsibility on Wall Street in Washington that rippled out and led to
so many of the problems that we face today. I talked about the focus on
outward markers of success that can help lead us astray but here’s the thing
class of 2009, it works the other way too. Acts of sacrifice and decency without
regard to what’s in it for you, that also creates ripple effects. Ones that lift up
families and communities, that spread opportunity and boost our economy, that
reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world, who committed young people
like you see the true face of America, our strength, our goodness, our diversity,
our enduring power, our ideals. I know starting your careers in troubled
times is a challenge but it is also a privilege,
because it’s moments like these that force us to try harder and dig deeper
and to discover gifts we never knew we had. To find the greatness that lies
within each of us. So don’t ever shy away from that endeavor,
don’t stop adding to your body of work. I can promise that you will be the better
for that continued effort as will this nation that we all love. Congratulations class of 2009 on your graduation! God bless you and God bless the United
States of America.