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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thousands attend Pres. Obama's first commencement address

By Starla Muhammad

Over 70,000 people braved the intense sweltering heat and packed Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU) on May 13, to attend the 2009 spring commencement. While there to observe and celebrate the conferring of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to over 9,000 students receiving diplomas, those in attendance also witnessed a first. It was the first commencement address given by Barack Obama as President of the United States.

Mr. Obama was well received by the enthusiastic crowd, many whom had been sitting in 100 plus degree temperatures for hours, and delivered a speech that was both inspirational and motivating as he urged the graduates to face challenges head-on, not to “rest on your laurels” and to rethink an ideology of materialism over substance. “Let me suggest that such an approach won’t get you where you want to go; that in fact, the elevation of appearance over substance, celebrity over character, short-term gain over lasting achievement is precisely what your generation needs to help end”, he told the students to thunderous applause.

Both with humor and class, Mr. Obama also addressed the controversy regarding ASU’s decision to not bestow upon him an honorary degree from university representatives that alleged, “his body of work has yet to come” and that what he had accomplished did not “fit within the criteria for an achievement of eminence”. Honorary degrees are often a customary practice bestowed upon many commencement speakers at colleges and universities.

According to media reports, “recipients of past ASU honorary degrees included an aloe-vera magnate, the director of “Victor Victoria”, a Chinese official, a Canadian politician, and lots of donors and fundraisers.” Mr. Obama, a law school graduate, best selling author, community organizer, US Senator and the country’s first Black president of the United States felt the issue was “much ado about nothing”. The President used the occasion to issue a challenge to all to continue individual growth and development. “In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one’s life has been led – and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s speech was the first commencement address delivered by a sitting U.S. president at an Arizona school.
(photo by Starla Muhammad)

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