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Posted on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

Students hope President Obama avoids politics, seeks to inspire in U-M commencement speech

By Erica Hobbs

With graduation just days away, University of Michigan students anticipating President Barack Obama’s commencement speech hope he'll inspire them and stay away from politics.

“I feel graduation is more for students, and I don’t want it to be overshadowed by a speaker,” U-M sophomore Emily Bonchi said.


President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an ethanol plant in Macon, Mo., Wednesday.

AP photo

While the subject of Obama’s speech is unknown, that hasn’t stopped students from speculating about his topic and voicing their own ideas.

“I would like to hear about Obama’s personal success and less policy,” said U-M student Alex Bade, who is graduating with a degree in civil engineering. “I want to hear Barack Obama the scholar, not the president.”

Ali Barsell, who will be graduating with an economics degree, said she hopes Obama will speak about the job market.

“It’s a concern for all of us graduating,” she said.

Still, others think the president’s speech should focus on making the world a better place.

Andre Nyffeler, a 2009 U-M graduate, said he thinks Obama should speak about ethics and virtue given the recent meltdown on Wall Street. He said he thinks Obama will also discuss the Peace Corps, a program that was born out of a speech by President John F. Kennedy at the University in 1960. The program marks the 50th anniversary of its conception this year.

Despite concerns graduation could turn into a political grandstand, students say they’re mostly excited about having a sitting president as this year’s keynote speaker,

“We’re definitely lucky to have a president come to speak to us,” said Alex Cooperstock, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s studies Saturday. “It’s a great way to end our four years.”

U-M student Joshua Derke said he’s excited about all he hoopla surrounding the speech, even though he does not have tickets for Saturday. He said he remembers campus the night Obama got elected, when students poured onto the Diag and the marching band played the national anthem.

“I’m pretty excited if there’s that much energy about it,” he said. “It’s really great to have a sitting president give a speech.”

Even students with conservative families said their families are enthusiastic about Obama coming.

“My dad’s not happy with it, but I think they all realize it is pretty cool to see a president in person,” biology and Spanish major Michelle Webb said. “It’s been funny, because there’s been a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to get tickets.”

Bade said his family has similar feelings.

“I can easily say half the people I gave tickets to voted for McCain, but we’re very excited,” he said. “I didn’t have to force tickets on anyone.”

Erica Hobbs is a reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2537 or via e-mail at


mike from saline

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 6:45 a.m.

Sorry Top Cat, I don't think the Prez will go anywhere near personel responsibiltiy. He's much more likely to preech about "collective responsibility" [re-distribution of wealth, "from each, according to there abilities, to each, according to there needs", and "property is theft"]. THEN, he will explain "that none of the problems this country faces are his fault!


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Perhaps he will tell them, as he did the other day in a speech, "I think at some point you've made enough money". Bye-bye American dream. Where is the motivation in that, if the government could ever decide when you've made "enough" money? Who decides that? Just not right, and not an American ideal.

Duane Collicott

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 7:11 a.m.

He'll talk about himself for 99% of the speech.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

So why won't Obama release his school records and his Master's thesis?

Top Cat

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 3:47 p.m.

He'll probably give them a speech about personal responsibility and then tell them that none of the problems the country faces are his fault.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

Coded messages... Both sides of the aisle are guilty of seeing/heaaring that. As for the parental concerns regarding Mr. Obama's address to the school kids - it was NOT the address itself that caused controversy. It was the cirriculum that the WH wanted the schools to participate in AFTER the speech. They changed the cirriculum on their website after concerns were voiced. Right now - everything is being politicized - by both sides. I have no problem with ANY President giving a commencement speech to such deserving graduates. But unfortunately - sometimes this can cause the focus to be placed upon the speaker when the 'stars of the show' are the graduates. Good or bad - which ever way one sees it - this will definitely be a graduation these new young lawyers will remember. Their own "personal" historical event - is now a national historical event.

Jake C

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 3 p.m.

I've found if there's one thing that people on both sides of the political aisle seem to agree on, it's that President Obama knows how to give a good speech. Sad to say, some people will always find "coded political rhetoric" in a speech where none exists if they try hard enough. Just look at all the hoopla over Obama's speech last fall to the nation's schoolchildren. Billed as "OMG Indoctrination!" it basically turned out to be a pep-talk about personal responsibility. Obama's speech Saturday could consist entirely of saying "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and the wingnuts would find some way to describe it as "coded Socialist/Communist indoctrination".


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 1:35 p.m.

Most of what he says falls on def ears when it is heard by conservatives. The same thing happened when President Clinton spoke at the ceremony a few years ago. Everything is political, there's no way to get around that. What people should do is sit back, listen, and potentially learn something. Mainly, just appreciate the fact that a SITTING PRESIDENT is willing to give this speech. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for people, enjoy it.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 12:16 p.m.

I think it would be interesting to see a sitting President give the commencement speech but unfortunately, I have to give the dog a bath on Saturday, then do a little laundry and watch a new's all about priorities...LOL Nonetheless, CONGRATULATIONS to the grads and I hope they aren't too let down once they realize the senior pub crawls are no more and quarter bounce is just not in their's called growin up! [and sometimes that just]


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 12:13 p.m.

Interesting that some undermine the common sense of such an immensely intelligent and talented man. President Obama undoubtedly understands the moment. He gets that the event is about celebrating the success of the 2010 class of the University of Michigan. But obviously some are struggling so hard to stay afloat in their ideology that they can't imagine that someone else would be able to escape the tides of their political beliefs...

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

The way Obama has gotten ahead is by preying on white guilt very effectively. Maybe he'll speak about that to inspire the students.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

I don't think the students are going to get what they hope for... This will be just another opportunity for political rhetoric disguised as 'community service'. The really sad thing about this is that these students have had to work so very hard to even make it to graduation. This I know - my own brother is a U of M Law Grad. That they have managed to accomplish a very difficult goal is what SHOULD be recognized. That they are now at the beginning of a career that has the potential to make real changes in our courts and for our society is just awesome. I really hate to see their day over shawdowed by politics. Congrats to all - now go out and take on the world!


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.

yeah, I also see it being political. Fitting speaker for MAY DAY


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Inspirational commencement speech..don't count on it...sounds more like a great opportunity for a captive audience to deliver a political agenda speech. Hope I'm wrong, for the sake of the graduates. CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATING CLASS OF 2010!!!