President Barack Obama encouraged Ohio State University graduates on Sunday to be active U.S. citizens while speaking of government as a positive force in people’s lives.
Obama, standing on a platform in Ohio Stadium’s north end zone Sunday afternoon, gave a 27-minute speech that urged the 8,200 students that school officials said attended the ceremony to become engaged in civic life after graduation.
Obama, a Democrat, quoted his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, the last sitting U.S. president to speak at an OSU commencement.
“I am asking the same thing of you that President Bush did when he spoke at this commencement in 2002: ‘America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens,’” Obama said.
Otherwise, special interests are able hijack the political process, he said.
“That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want,” Obama said, in one of a few digs he made at his fellow Washington politicians.
Obama said government can provide citizens with an opportunity to collectively solve problems such as income inequality and climate change.
“We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn’t want to,” Obama said. “But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand this democracy is ours.”
Even with recent challenges, Obama said 2013 graduates have a bright future.
“There is not another country on Earth that would not gladly change places with the United States of America. And that will be true for your generation just as it was true for previous generations,” Obama said.
Kari Jewell, 22, of New Carlisle, was among those who graduated Sunday. Jewell said she would have preferred the speaker be someone who was less politically polarizing, but appreciated his message.
“I think a lot of what he said made sense. It’s really important that we uphold those ideals regardless of which political party we support,” she said. “It is up to use to make sure everything goes how we believe it can.”
Leigh Stone, a 2001 Beavercreek graduate who received her medical degree on Sunday, said she it was an “honor” to have the president speak at her graduation.
“I think that it really added a special air to the day,” Stone said.