President Barack Obama to University of Michigan grads: Keep democracy going
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?"
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
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.
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
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.