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Posted on Sat, May 1, 2010 : 7 p.m.

President Barack Obama's commencement address 'a great memory' for U-M graduates

By David Jesse


President Barack Obama receives an honorary degree during spring commencement at Michigan Stadium on Saturday morning.

Melanie Maxwell |

They dragged themselves out of bed early. They waited out a thunderstorm and endured long lines to get through security. And they found ways to stave off boredom during the long wait for the ceremony to start.

But all those inconveniences were washed away the second the familiar strains of Hail to the Chief rang out in Michigan Stadium Saturday morning. With a wide grin on his face - accompanied by a 66-second long burst of thunderous applause - President Barack Obama strode onto stage to help cap the collegiate careers of the 8,500 students who made up the University of Michigan’s 2010 graduating class.

Obama in Ann Arbor

“It really culminated the four years I spent here,” said Michelle Brown, an Ohio native who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and now plans to start medical school. “I feel Obama really addressed the issues that students felt were important to hear, and he was funny and entertaining.”

Before the ceremony

Graduation day started with a bang - literally, as lightning split the sky and thunder rattled windows.

Those arriving before dawn at the stadium huddled under tents as rain poured down and delayed the opening of the stadium’s gates for nearly an hour.

Graduates gathered on Elbel Field near the stadium and then made their way to the ceremony after passing through a gauntlet of photo stations - including one featuring an Obama cardboard cutout with which students could pose.


A Michigan graduate signals to someone in the stands before the start of commencement at Michigan Stadium on Saturday morning.

Melanie Maxwell I

“The lines were really long there,” said Danny Gordon, of East Hills, N.Y., who graduated with a degree in economics. “We left and came over here. We’ve been inside since 7:30 (a.m.). We’re just hanging out, having fun, waiting for it all to start.”

As the minutes ticked closer to the 11 a.m. starting time, the crowds began to clog streets around the stadium and the security checkpoints set up at each gate.

The line for the gate at the corner of Main Street and Keech Avenue snaked across Main, then turned back across Main and stretched down Keech, nearly the length of the entire stadium.

Some people reported waiting up to an hour to get in, but the lines kept moving.

“It wasn’t too bad,” said Lisa Rand, who was there to celebrate with her graduating sister. “I thought it would be a lot longer wait. They seemed to keep us moving forward, so that wasn’t too bad.”

U-M officials said everyone made it through security by the 11 a.m. start of the ceremony.

Many people had several hours to kill in the stadium after making it through security. Various bands and singing groups entertained the crowd, while graduates posed for pictures, hugged friends and mugged for television cameras.

Some food was available at concession stations, but several people said they ran out of food before the start of the ceremony.

Announcers frequently encouraged those sitting in the stands to squeeze together to fit everyone in.

The stage was set up on the visiting team’s sideline, with graduates on the field in front. The sections behind the stage were empty, except for various police officers.

The other sections in the stadium were crammed full. The university estimated the crowd at between 80,000 and 85,000. The White House noted it was the largest crowd Obama has addressed since his inauguration.

Some protesters gathered outside, but not as many as expected.

The ceremony

About five minutes before the start of the ceremony, a video showed various U.S. presidents who have spoken at U-M. The crowd cheered for each appearance, but saved the loudest applause for Bill Clinton.

Right at 11, the ceremony began. Obama was the last to walk on stage and took a seat between U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.


Members of the University of Michigan's class of 2010 group together to pose for a picture.

Lon Horwedel |

He's only the third sitting president to speak at a U-M graduation. The others were Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Several others - including Coleman and Granholm - spoke before Obama.

Student speaker Alex Marston drew approving smiles from Obama during his speech about change.

“Today we graduates are forced to change to move forward in a new direction, but change is a funny thing,” Marston said. “We desire change, yet we fear it. We say things like I just want to make a difference in the world, yet we grow uneasy when the world around us changes … . President Obama was elected on his promise of change we can believe in, but after he took office, he found many resistances to change.”

Several speakers thanked Obama for coming - including Granholm, who threw out an easy applause line during her speech.

"Thank you for coming here instead of that school to the south,” she said.

After getting an honorary degree, Obama took the podium to another standing ovation, this one lasting 32 seconds.

He challenged students, and those there supporting them, to engage their world and to do so in a civilized way.

During his 30-minute speech, he was interrupted multiple times by applause, spanning over three minutes in total.


A student displays some mortar board art Saturday.

Lon Horwedel |

Obama went for applause early, starting his speech with a “Go Blue.” After the applause died down, he conceded, “I thought I’d go for the cheap applause line to start things off.”

Graduates held cameras and cell phones over their heads to snap photos.

Many in the stadium leaned forward or sat on the edge of their seats as he spoke. In the most serious portions of his speech, a hush fell over the crowd.

“The fact is, when you leave here today you will search for work in an economy that is still emerging from the worst crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama said. “You live in a century where the speed with which jobs and industries move across the globe is forcing America to compete like never before. You will raise your children at a time when threats like terrorism and climate change aren’t confined within the borders of any one country. And as our world grows smaller and more connected, you will live and work with more people who don’t look like you or think like you or come from where you do.

“Class of 2010, I understand that one effect of today’s poisonous political climate is to push people away from participation in public life. If all you see when you turn on the TV is name-calling, if all you hear about is how special interest lobbying and partisanship prevented Washington from getting something done, you might think to yourself, ‘What’s the point of getting involved?’”

“Here’s the point. When we don’t pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that’s when democracy breaks down. That’s when power is abused. That’s when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave. That’s when powerful interests and their lobbyists are most able to buy access and influence in the corridors of power -- because none of us are there to speak up and stop them.”


Rain pelts the crowd waiting to go through security outside Michigan Stadium.

Lon Horwedel |

After the speech, several who heard it gave it high marks.

“He did a very good job of explaining the importance of really going out there and making a difference - not just for your career, but also for the country and for others and the community,” said graduate Domenic Terenzi of Rochester, who earned a degree in biology. “For example, I have a red service cord for my time with the alternative spring break service organization, and it was really affirming of the idea that that kind of work - both community service work in addition to academic work - really does have an impact on democracy and the country. And it was very inspiring to me personally for that reason.”

But Catherine Roosevelt, who graduated with a master’s degree in higher education, was less enthusiastic. She said Obama’s speech didn’t compare to Bill Clinton's at U-M in 2007. She recalled crying after being inspired by Clinton when she received her bachelor’s degree.

“It was lackluster,” she said of Obama's talk. “I kept waiting for the ‘go out and change the world’ part. I give it a 7 out of 10.”

After the ceremony

Even though several other people received honorary degrees - and graduates from each college at U-M were then recognized - large portions of the crowd began to file out as soon as Obama’s speech ended.

They gathered on the concourse of the stadium, waiting to celebrate with graduates.

People flowed down Main Street, stopping to gawk as Obama’s helicopter took off and headed back to Detroit Metro Airport.

They stood six or seven deep at shuttle stops, waiting for rides back to their hotels.

And as the afternoon moved on, they settled in for parties, some on front lawns of student housing and others in downtown restaurants.

Michelle Davis was among the latter. She was sipping some white wine while waiting for her daughter, who graduated with an economics degree, to find her way to a late lunch.

“It turned out to be a great day,” she said. “I thought maybe it wouldn’t be, with all the rain this morning and I was worried about how long we’d have to wait to get through security, but it wasn’t bad. It was great way for us to celebrate with our daughter. What a great memory it will be for her and us.” reporters Erica Hobbs and Ryan Stanton contributed to this story. David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Mon, May 3, 2010 : 10:28 a.m.

@ Wagoo, you are taking the quote: "...cling to guns and religion", out of context. President Obama meant that people need to shed the old ways and look outward (to the community and the world at large), to expand their ideas about the world and the role we all play. Guns and religions have traditionally been tools to isolate groups from the collective soul of the world. It's time to think globally.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 7:12 a.m.

Wagoo: I take it, then, that you have no examples of Obama, either as candidate or as president, as being uncivil? A poster above has dismantled your guns and religion example of incivility. He is under no obligation to denounce or support for anything it might have said. Moreover, silence, by its very nature, is not uncivil. Incivility demands action, not inaction. War on Faux Noise? How so? If you are talking about the brief moratorium on administration interviews with Faux Noise, yeah, that was unfortunate. But did you watch the interview where he was constantly interrupted by the Faux Noise interviewer? I can tell you who was uncivil, and it was not the president. He often belittles his critics while ignoring their valid comments. OK, lets go to the tape. On Saturday he said: Still, if youre somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal, once in a while. If you are a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil, your mind might not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for democracy. In this he urges us to take into account those sources of news we dont likeright and leftand to consider their ideas. Yeah, I can see where this is belittling ones critics. So, youve brought ZERO actual FACTS to bear to support your contention that Obama has been uncivil. And NOTHING you cite begins to approach the incivility that has been urged on by Republican leadership and by Faux Noise propagandists like Glenn Beck.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

Dave66: Absolutely brilliant.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:45 p.m.

Democrats: We need health care reform. Republicans: Liberal fascists! Give us a majority and we'll do it better. Democrats: OK, you now have a majority in both houses. Lets see what you can do. Democrats: We need health care reform. Republicans: Liberal fascists! Americans are tired of partisan politics! Democrats: OK, let's compromise. Republicans: OK, get rid of half your ideas. Democrats: Done. Republicans: Too liberal, get rid of half your ideas. Democrats: Done. Republicans: Too liberal, get rid of half your ideas. Democrats: Done. Republicans: Too liberal, get rid of half your ideas. Democrats: Done. Republicans: Too liberal, get rid of half your ideas. Democrats: Done. Time to end debate. Republicans: Too liberal, we need more debate, we will filibuster to prevent you from voting. Democrats: No, we'll vote. Sorry guys, debate is ended. It's time to vote on the bill. Republicans: Too liberal, we vote no. Democrats: OK, it passed anyway. Sorry guys, majority rules. Its called Democracy. Republicans: Wait! Wait! We are one less of minority than we were before, so now we can filibuster forever. Democrats: Sorry, the bill already passed, we need it to pass the House. Republicans: But we have enough to filibuster. Democrats: Sorry, the bill already passed, we need it to pass the House. Republicans: Liberal fascists! You haven't listened to our ideas! You've shut us out of this whole process! Democrats: Sorry, show us your proposal. Republicans: Smaller government. Democrats: That's not very specific. Republicans: OK, here's our detailed proposal. It's our common-sense ideas we spent 12 years not enacting. Democrats: OK, we'll add a bunch more of your ideas. Republicans: Liberal fascists! You included all these back-room deals. Democrats: OK, we'll get rid of the back-room deals. Republicans: Liberal fascists! You're using obscure procedural tricks to eliminate the back-room deals! Democrats: No, we're using "reconciliation", which both parties have used dozens of times for much larger bills. Republicans: Liberal fascists! You're pressuring Congressmen to vote for your bill! Scandal! Democrats: It's called whipping and it's been done since 1789. Republicans: Liberal fascists! Can't you see the American people don't want this? Democrats: This bill is mildly unpopular (40-50%), doing nothing (your proposal) is extraordinarily unpopular (4-6%). Republicans: We need to start over! We need to start over! Democrats: We should really consider voting... Republicans: Liberal fascists! Start over! Clean slate! Common-sense! America!


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:05 p.m.

Can you imagine if any students stood and turned their backs to Obama like they did to our former President?!??! The students would have been run out of the commencement and more than likely would have been disciplined by the university. The kool-aid drinking Libs at the U of M were practially on their knees worshiping their Messiah! +Do they hold Obama accoutable for not holding a single campaign promise, NO! +Did they protest and insist Obama give back the money from his biggest campaign contributer, Goldman Sachs...NO! +Did they protest that America is STILL at war, NO! +Did they protest Gitmo is still open, NO! +Did they protest the terrible Obama response to the BIGGEST OIL SPILL in US History, NO! +Will they EVER hold Obama accountable for ANYTHING, No! ++Are they ALL HYPOCRIATES?!?! YES!

walt w

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

Dave66...wars rammed down our throats??? One of them the one president Obama said he supported, the one in Afghanistan was in the aftermath of the 9/11/01 ATTACKS ON THE UNITED STATES, and most Americans I know didn't consider retaliation to those attacks as being 'war rammed down our throats, I'm puzzled about where the lie in that war is...the second war; the war in Iraq had bipartisan support (as well as a lot of private sector support)before we entered... a lot of elected democrat officials backed that decision whole heartedly at the time...many of those democrats still hold office or some gov't appointment. To be wrong with an assumption IS NOT LYING. And isn't that the war that President Obama promised to bring our troops home from "on day one" if elected? Whois now following the Bush administrations troop withdrawl schedule almost to the letter, without so much as a peep from his supporters about breaking that promise. So forget the lose that arguement with anyone who is honest. As far as healthcare goes, you may be right, it may have been legal but I think we will see many court decisions before you can call that one, but there is a difference between legal and ethical. The congress could pass a perfectly legal law that said you must be 5 foot 7 and 1/2 inches tall, born on third Saturday of months starting with the letter J to be eligible to...(whatever) legal yes...ethical no. When it is PERFECTLY CLEAR THAT THE COUNTRY IS VERY DIVIDED ON THE ISSUE...the ethical thing to do would have been to try to find a solution that was more acceptible to the major majority, rather than one that quite possibly does not have the majority of the citizens support at all. Just because all the politicians agree that it is in our best interest, does not make it so...and even if it is, it isn't their job to force it upon us if we don't want it. What is next, shall we make it illegal to eat sugar because the government says it is in our best interest, or maybe you would like them telling you that it is in your best interest to work as a grocery store clerk because that is what your job evaluation test says you would be best suited for, or that you can't attend college because you aptitude test says you would be a good mechanic so you need to go to vocational school. Where is the line drawn, you may say my examples are rediculouse but I would almost guarantee if you asked 100 senior citizens it they ever thought they would see the day when you could be arrested for choosing to not buy health insurance the majority would answer no.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 12:22 p.m.

It's weird to read the comments hardened and sharp for the most part. Like it's better to kill your opponent then compromise for resolution. I liked Obama's speech because he reminded me that a government that is too big, or too small, is a bad thing. And that compromise is good, and that opening up to ideas you disagree with is also good. To wit, my mother watched Fox News for the first time in her life after see Obama speak because she said it was time she listened to people who seemed to have different ideas. How bad could he be for the Right if he encouraged someone to watch Fox?


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

maybe Obama should focus on helping with the Oil spill. If that oil spill isnt contained, we are looking at the Gulf of Mexico and our shorline-DESTROYED!! geez, and people wanna criticize GW Bush for Katrina??? We have a lousy president and all of you think this guy is sooo great! i see and hear nothing but sheep.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : noon

For every Obama-hater who complains about recent legislation being "rammed down our throats," welcome to democracy. You know, the political system where the majority rules. Where were all of you when W started not one but two unnecessary wars, based on lies? The majority of Americans did not want those wars, and yet here we are, a trillion dollars later. Those wars were rammed down our throats. Your outrage would be more interesting to me if you weren't so full of hypocrisy. The health care reform bill wasn't rammed down your throat, it was achieved lawfully, through our democratic process, according to procedures and rules that have been in place for decades. You lost. Get over it.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

Obama gave a good speech. I would have preferred that it focused more on the graduating class, but it was still better than expected. However, Jennifer Granholm should not have been allowed anywhere close to Michigan Stadium yesterday. Her short burst was entirely unnecessary to the entire process, and made me like her less than I already did.

David Briegel

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

"antipathy to people who aren't like them". And all they wanted to discuss was guns and religion. That pretty much sums up the hopelessness for a dialogue with people that are so easily confused and misled. The "rancor" tends to come from the less well informed! Proof that the A2News and are pretty fair is the simple fact that many liberal/progressives believe they are too conservative and vice versa!

David Briegel

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

Oh, the "war on Christians". Baloney! Persecution complex? When they tell you that your church must close or you can't practice your religion in your home, the ACLU and I will prevent it. Until then, unless you want my religous beliefs in your face, I would keep the complaining to a minimum. There is nothing about which to complain! And this on a day when a true proponent of Christian Family Values comes to town and gives a great graduation speech. Silliness! Have you guys been crying with Beck?? You might want to re-read his comments suggesting that you not just read or listen to one side. He didn't say READ huffpost. He said to get the opinions from BOTH sides so you are informed! I quote "the practice of listening to opposing views is essential to effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy." He also suggested to "engage in different experiences with different kinds of people." Broaden the diversity and thought amongst our circle of friends and associates. "what is certain, is the ability to shape that destiny". "That is what makes us Americans....our ability at the end of the day to look past all of our differences and all of our disagreements and still form a common future". Compare those words to those that you have listened to and the thoughts amongst your circle of friends.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.

Well, I did Google it, and here's the whole paragraph. I find nothing uncivil here. "But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:15 a.m.

President Coleman gave the best speech. It was aimed at the students and was inspirational. President Obama gave a speech he has given many times before, but tailored a bit for UM. The worst speech was from Governor Granholm. It was fawning and embarrassing. No way is she on any Obama short list.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

@Wagoo Please remeber that the only hate filled,venomious,name calling posts that are allowed is when they're aimed at conserative,Republicticans and christians


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

I just did a quick job search for architects in Michigan via Indeed and got 108 hits. Congrats to your son, Trish.

David Briegel

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:35 a.m.

wagoo, please, just one single example of his "incivility". How can we take you seriously when you aren't? Only comments that are less than "civil" get deleted!


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

Wagoo, please submit examples of the incivility you say Obama used to get elected.

Trish Patterson

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:54 a.m.

My son graduated with a Master's of Architecture. I am sooooo proud of him, and I am proud of our President, as well. There is HOPE for all these graduates because of him.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:45 a.m.

I generally support Obama's policies while disagreeing with some of his opinions. I suppose no president can satisfy us 100% of the time. I do agree that a call for civility is appropriate, even when people don't see eye to eye.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

Amazing how easy it is to spot the Obama-haters "talking points."


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

Worst president in a hundred years visits Michigan. Did he have any advice about how these poor kids can survive the Euro socialist economy he was ramming down their throats? LOL Enjoy your IRS managed health care, massive debt and crippling taxes during you 60 years of work....and God help you if you earn more then the government says you deserve!...yet Ann Arbor celebrates...


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 7:30 a.m.

The Presidents speech was motivating, inspirational, and very appropriate for commencement. It is wonderful to have a President that we can be proud of.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 11:24 p.m.

Obama will be a ONE TERM PRESIDENT!! HMMM cant wait to see the response from all you left wing liberal extremists!!


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 11:24 p.m.

Good luck getting a J. O. B. Univ of MI graduates. Your pRESIDENT has done a wonderful job getting this economy turned around. Oops, it is all G.W.'s fault, I forgot.!!! I am sorry for blaming some of it on your socialist pRESIDENT!!!! Let's all go up to the diag and have a breathing treatment/attitude adjustment to escape reality!!!Might feel better for a short bit but then we will wake up in a fog like the pRESIDENT. Oops, he did inhale did he not, unlike Mr. Clinton? "Devil with the blue dress,blue dress, blue dress, devil with the blue dress on!!!!!. Devil with the Blue Dress, Blue Dress, Blue Dress, Devil witht the Blue Dress On!!!

walt w

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 9:52 p.m.

It is sort of funny...the democratic party deamonizes people who were very much like the grads of today only 25 years ago. Young, aspiring, educated, motivated, and out to make a decent living. Now 25 years later, they have become successfull, affluent, and... according to the dems...part of the problem... rich and uncaring. You know the ones who got rich by taking advantage of all the poor folks in this country, the ones who don't pay their fair of taxes... the ones who he (Obama) will 'make pay now' through higher taxes. So who did you screw out of an education to get yours? I only pose that question, not because I believe it to be true, but because if any of you become truly rich and successsful, that accusation will be made. Especially if you are not a minority. You may say I'm nuts, or whatever...but all you have to do is be alive and conscious at all to hear the rhetoric. The accusations fly about every successful non minority person. It is impossible for anyone to have gotten anything through hard work and has to come through taking advantage of some one or by having an unfair advantage over someone...So be forewarned, the very man (or a representation of) who paid you high praises today..will be deamonizing you 25 years from now and demanding more of you because you had to have had some kind of unfair advantage to get where you are at.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 9:41 p.m.

Engineer: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." --John Kenneth Galbraith


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 9:01 p.m.

Funny thing Obama sez to broaden your horizons getting to know people different than yourself and to listen to them but yet he has not practiced that at all in his first years in office. Republicans have offered many great suggestions to get the economy back on track and to help with health care to make it more like the majority of Americans wanted but yet to no avail. After Mass election dems put it in high gear to ram stuff down our throat we did NOT want. His speech was fine but practice what you preach. Also while you are at it tell the graduates how many years of their working life will be spent paying for your first years in office. Lets hope we can get a good conservative canidate to run that understands real working people and can relate to our everyday struggles without supporting all kinds programs for those who did not want to put the work in that the graduates have to get to where they are today.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 8:36 p.m.

As an Old Retired Guy, who is about 13 years OLDER than our President, and who has seen many political speeches, I must admit that Prez O hit things right on the head. He has a good grasp of things, including the way the economy has treated many. And I think he really gives a damn. And I think his "stimulus" package did, indeed, keep our recession from falling into a much deeper depression. It's hard to prove a negative, of course. But even many conservative economists are in agreement with this tenet. Hopefully, all this silly "anti-incumbent" anger, which has no rational basis, will dissipate within the next six months. (But -- I'm not holding my breath.)


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 8:01 p.m.

What we saw today was an inspiration. Not just President Obama, but the future of our great country. Despite all the negativism, there is hope. Leaders and best.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 7:13 p.m.

How ridiculous is the guy w/ the hat? We were calling him "Prince of Nottingham" during the graduation. I mean, hey congrats on spending the extra couple years to get a Dr., but really - you have to wear the weird outfit? I guess tradition is tradition.....