Here is the full transcript of President Obama’s commencement speech at Arizona State University (with intro by Michael Crow). The event took place on May, 13, 2009.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Obama at ASU Commencement Speech with intro by Michael Crow
Michael Crow – President, Arizona State University
Now my job 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 in the 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 am going to walk through this – our President. Let me begin with the following:
Hold on. 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 whose 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 whose 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 benefitted 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 truth greatness and our potential comes from a deep understand 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’ve 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 US 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 yokes that hold us back must be taken off to create opportunity for success. One of those yokes that has been the struggle – one of those yokes 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 remain 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, they come from the lowest socio-economic grouping, only 15% 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, and 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 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 changed 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’ve 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 am 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 health 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 — 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.
President Barack Obama
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, ASU. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
Well, 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 a 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.