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Posted on Sat, May 1, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

President Barack Obama to University of Michigan grads: Keep democracy going

By Juliana Keeping

Thousands jumped to their feet - and many graduates climbed on their chairs - when President Barack Obama took the stage in Michigan Stadium Saturday.

While the president acknowledged the difficult times of today - after all, the graduates are entering the working world in the worst economy since the Great Depression - he also kept the crowd laughing and cheering throughout his 30-minute speech.

Before a crowd of 8,500 graduates and more than 80,000 total in the Big House, Obama argued for civility in hard times and urged the graduates to be respectful.

It's a simple message we learn from our parents, Obama said, and one he pondered after receiving a letter from a kindergartner. The child wrote to ask him: "Are people being nice?"


President Barack Obama gives the keynote speech during spring commencement at Michigan Stadium on Saturday morning.

Melanie Maxwell |

Not quite, he said, although politics has never been for the thinned skinned. "If you enter the ring, you should expect to be roughed up," Obama said.

Obama mostly stayed away from partisan issues, instead imploring graduates to seek out a diverse range of viewpoints on various topics mirroring their educational experience.

But he touched on politics several times, blaming the friction in Washington on the 24/7 cable news media and talking heads that often pan him.

"We can’t expect to solve our problems by tearing each other down," Obama said. "You can see why even a kindergartner would ask these questions. We’ve got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names."

"Throwing around phrases like socialist, 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."

Throughout the address, Obama promoted a number of his controversial initiatives, from health care - which drew massive applause - to his proposal for banking legislation, which drew just muted applause.

"We've also seen clearly the dangers of too little government - like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy," he said. "So what we should be asking is not whether we need a 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter, better government."

Obama also used the opportunity to encourage students to appreciate American freedoms and help keep democracy going. Listen to the other side, he said, even if it makes one's "blood boil."

"You should pay attention and contribute in any way that you can," he said. "Stay informed. Write letters and make phone calls on behalf of an issue. Find a way to serve our community and your country."

Before Obama started speaking at 11 a.m., U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and Gov. Jennifer Granholm offered brief remarks.


The Michigan Stadium field became a sea of gradutates from the class of 2010.

Lon Horwedel |

Coleman highlighted the accomplishments of the class of 2010, noting how many students have given their time for community service.

Granholm praised Obama for delivering more than $60 billion in emergency loans to distressed automakers General Motors and Chrysler to support their bankruptcy filings in 2009.

"Thank you for supporting our auto industry," Granholm said. "General Motors, Ford, Chrysler. They all have bright futures now, where one year ago much darker clouds than these moved over ahead."

The speech marked the third time a sitting president has delivered a graduation speech at U-M. George H.W. Bush spoke in 1991, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. A total of 12 past, present or future presidents have visited campus.

Juliana Keeping covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sat, May 29, 2010 : 8:42 p.m.

These are all good points...the president, being the leader of our nation could get involved in the oil spill to help solve the problem. However, I think it is quite a bit more complicated than we know. The way I see it, sending the President down to the Gulf Coast would be solely for PR purposes to satisfy people and make them feel like something is being done. Let's say he does go. What can Obama really do? At the very least demand them to "plug it!" For all we know the administration may have very well tried to do so. But I would like to know, from those who suggested Obama spend his time in the Gulf, what he can do about it? Maybe I am just ignorant, but the way I see it, the oil spill was an act of neglect and wrongdoing on the part of professionals in the oil industry. It's their job to prevent it from happening in the first place. They messed up. They are the ones that need to clean up the mess they made. This was no natural disaster, like Katrina. And in the event of a natural disaster, I think it is the Government's job to support the victims and communities involved as best they can. I don't think it's right to expect the Government to automatically just bail us out of problems we create for ourselves. It would be wise to look deeper into complications of a problem. Let's say, for instance, it is the corporations controlling more of what happens than the government is actually able to handle. They very well could be the ones preventing the plug. If oil equals money and a plugged oil spill means no more oil...then a plugged oil spill means no more money. They lose lots of money. And let's face it people, we are greedy nation. If this is the case (and I am not saying it is...but it is possible) then these corporations were more concerned with finding an alternative to keep as much of "their money" as possible. My hopeful vision is that the government and the corporations were in a complicated argument that we are not able to understand at this time. Don't put the blame on Obama...especially since he is merely a face to represent a very complicated government.

John K

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 10:17 p.m.

In a democracy, 51% of the people can vote to put 49% of the people to death. I know this President would prefer that we were a democracy, but I'm very glad to live in a constitutionally limited, representative republic.....or I might find myself in the 49%. John Galt 2012


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 7:57 p.m.

I am not angry that he chose to spend an afternoon in A2 instead of going to the Gulf Coast to view the oil spill. What I am EXTREMELY angry about is that the neither the media, nor the nation are demanding why it has taken TWELVE DAYS for our President to get to the Gulf and see the oil spill himself. I am in no way a GWB fan, but I recall the media and the people were clamoring for him to get to the Gulf Coast after Katrina. Media outlet after media outlet criticized and demeaned him for taking TWO days to fly over and survey the damage. (A fly-over is a lot better than landing and tying up resources that could go to aiding the clean-up versus closing stuff down so a President can land and motorcade or fly into an area.) Four days later GWB sent in troops and supplies. TWELVE DAYS LATER where is Obama's response? He says he's making sure BP pays for the clean-up. Oooooo, okay. Guess that's it, then.

Nathan Bickel

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

How could president Obama spend the afternoon at Michigan Univ. when the Gulf coast is in such peril? Didn't he vow during his campaign never to let the Gulf coast residents down after the [supposed] GWBush Katrina disaster? Even now, the liberally bent pro Obama New York Times is stating that the Obama Administration missed opportunities to act responsively to the disaster. Apparently, the Apology-in-Chief is at it again, blaming others and excusing himself. Does anything in the humdrum propaganda Obama administration ever change for the better? When [if ever] will BHO ever learn that his prime job as president is to protect the interests of the American public? How can we even begin to believe Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who speaks for the Obama administration when she says that they "had treated the explosion at the BP rig April 20 as a potential disaster from the beginning?" Napolitano is the same person who did little to nothing (while governor of Arizona) to stem the tumultuous illegal immigration problem. Go figure......... The USA public won't buy the Johnny Come Lately-in-Chief's response to the Gulf oil disaster. We deserve more than just, words. I'm curious. Our government can engineer a landing on the moon and back, but it cannot seal a spilling oil well? With all that Obama has said and done so far to weaken our country abroad and our economy here at home, why would any person in their right mind believe anything the Obama administration tells them? Finally, how can president Obama, in good conscience, celebrate at this time of national disaster? He should have canceled his plans. The American public would rather witness some action on his part, rather than his continued meaningless words and speeches......

Top Cat

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 6:43 p.m.

Granholm is such an empty suit. She just has no idea when it is time to exit stage left. I wish Obama would make her ambassador to Zimbabwe.

JohnE GR

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 6:03 p.m.

Obama needs a lesson on the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. A Democracy is gang rule and a Republic is for individual rights. That is the problem with our country, we have gone to a Democracy. We NEED to return this country to the Constitutionally Limited Republic that it was founded on! ~John Get US out of the U.N. End the Fed Restore Our American Republic - ROAR


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 5:46 p.m.

I was there and can tell you that it was a pretty good speech - whoever wrote it deserves a pat on the back, he read it very well on the teleprompter. Thing is - he repeated himself a few times that some people (he inferred Fox News and actually mentioned the Republicans if I remember correctly) are resistant to change without discussing what the change was. Assuming "change" or "reform" is always good is a big mistake.. I'd like to see him walk the walk with respect to the "bi-partisan" stuff he was promoting once he gets back to Washington...


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 5:41 p.m.

Thoughtful speech. Great day for everyone.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 5:06 p.m.

good bye don't come back to soon now ya hear