President Obama Talks Political Progress at Rutgers Commencement Ceremony

YouTube/The White House
President Barack Obama

"Progress doesn’t travel in a straight line. But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation’s hallmark," he said Sunday.

President Barack Obama received an honorary degree and gave the commencement address at Rutgers University on Sunday, praising the diversity of the student body and giving an optimistic view of their future. 

"One of the perks of my job is honorary degrees — but I have to tell you, it impresses nobody in my house," he said, adding that his daughters now call him "Dr. Dad" before asking for money. 

Obama told the crowd that several colleges ask him to deliver commencements addresses each year, but Rutgers' nonstop campaign to get him there impressed him. 

"I came here because you asked," he said. "It's true that a lot of schools invite me to their commencement every year, but you are the first to launch a three-year campaign. Emails, letters, tweets, YouTube videos. I even got three notes from the grandmother of your student body president. And I have to say, that really sealed the deal." 

The POTUS then praised the diversity of the New Jersey university and its traditions, saying that "America converges here" and the history of the school mirrors "the evolution of America."

"But America's progress has never been smooth," said Obama. "Progress doesn’t travel in a straight line. But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation’s hallmark." 

Telling the crowd that though they’ve already witnessed several cultural and technological shifts in the past decade or more, these changes "offer great opportunity but also great peril," he said.

“Fortunately, your generation has everything it takes to lead this country toward a brighter future," said Obama. "I’m confident that you can make the right choices away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward cooperation and innovation and hope." 

Praising the students' "healthy skepticism" and hope for their future, he joked that "on average, you’re smarter and better educated than my generation — although we probably have better penmanship." 

Summing up his message in a list, Obama told the audience that because he has so much confidence in the graduates, "I’m not going to spend the remainder of my time telling you exactly how you’re going to make the world better — you’ll figure it out." 

Obama listed suggestions "that you may find useful as you go out there and conquer the world":

1. "When you hear someone longing for the good old days, take it with a grain of salt."
2. "The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it's becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that."
3. "Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science — these are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy. These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens." He added, "Let me be as clear as I can be — in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue," and said that it's "not challenging political correctness, it's just not knowing what you're talking about."
4. "Have faith in Democracy."
5. "Gear yourself for the long haul — whatever path you choose."

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