tv President Obama Delivers Commencement Address at Rutgers University CSPAN May 31, 2016 2:56am-3:44am EDT
[laughter] [applause] by the authority invested in me, by the boards of governors of rutgers, the state university of new jersey, i am deeply honored to confirm upon you the degree of law with all of the rights, responsibilities, privileges and immunities to which it is entitled. i present you with this diploma -- emblematic of the degree. [applause] [cheering]
[cheering and applause] pres. obama: hello, rutgers. [cheering and applause] thank you so much everybody, please have a seat. thank you for the introduction. let me congratulate my extraordinarily worthy fellow honorary scarlet knights. dr. cornell and bill moyers. matthew, good job. [laughter] if you are interested, we can talk after this. [laughter] [applause] one of the perks of my job is
honorary degrees. [laughter] i have to tell you, it impresses nobody in my house. [laughter] now malia and sasha say, ok, dr. dad, see you later. can we have some money? [laughter] to the board of governors and chairman brown, the lieutenant governor, mayor cahill, mayor waller, members of congress, rutgers administrators, staff, and family. thank you for the honor of joining you at the 250th anniversary of this remarkable institution. [cheering and applause] most of all, congratulations to the class of 2016.
[cheering and applause] i come here for a simple reason, to finally settle this pork roll versus taylor ham question. [laughter] i'm just kidding. there's not much i'm afraid to take on in my final year of office, but i know better than to get in the middle of that debate. [laughter] the truth is i came here because you asked. [applause] it is true that a lot of schools invited me to their commencement every year, but you are the first to launch a three-year campaign. [laughter]
pres. obama: e-mails, letters, tweets, youtube videos. i even got three notes from the grandmother of your student body president. [laughter] pres. obama: and i have to say, that really sealed the deal. that was smart because i have a soft spot for grandmas. so i'm here, off exit nine, on the banks of build rail, at the site of one of the original nine colonial colleges. winners of the first ever college football game. [applause] pres. obama: one of the newest members of the big ten. home of what i understand to be a grease truck for a fat sandwich. [laughter]
[applause] pres. obama: mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers on your cheesesteaks. i'm sure michelle would approve. [laughter] pres. obama: but somehow you have survived such death-defying acts and you also survived the daily jockeying for cook toom livingston to douglass and back again. i suspect that a few of you are trying to survive this afternoon after a late-night. you know who you are. [laughter]
pres. obama: but however you got here, you made it. you made it. today, you join a long line of scarlet knights, whose energy and intellect have left this university to heights that the founders could not have imagined. 250 years ago, when america was still just an idea, a charter from the royal government, ben franklinson, established queens college. a few years later, handful of students gathered in a converted tavern for the first class. from that first class at a pub, rutgers has evolved into one of the finest research institutions in america. [applause] pres. obama: it is a place where you 3-d print prosthetic hands for children and devise rooftop wind arrays that can power
entire office buildings with clean, renewable energy. every day, tens of thousands of students come here to this intellectual melting pot where ideas and cultures flow together among what might just be america's most diverse student body. [applause] pres. obama: here in new brunswick, you can debate philosophy with a classmate from south asia in one place and strike up a conversation on the w bus with a first-generation latino student from jersey city before sitting down for your psych group project with a veteran going to the school on the post because of the g.i. bill. america converges here. and so many ways, the history of rutgers mirrors the evolution of america. the course by which we became bigger, stronger, richer, more
dynamic, and a more inclusive nation. but america's progress has never been smooth or steady. progress doesn't travel in a straight line. it zigs and zags with fits and starts. progress in america has been hard and contentious and sometimes bloody. it remains uneven. at times, for every two steps forward, it feels like we take one step back. for some of you, this may sound like your college career. [laughter] pres. obama: it sounds like mine anyway. [laughter]
pres. obama: which makes sense because measured against the whole human history, america remains a very young nation. younger even than this university. progress is bumpy. it always has been. but because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation's hallmark. i am fond of quoting dr. martin luther king jr., who said, "the ark of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." it bends toward justice. i believe that. but i also believe that the arc of our nation does not been -- bend toward justice or freedom or equality or prosperity on its own. it depends on us. on the choices we make, particularly at certain inflection points in history. particularly when big changes
are happening and everything seems up for grabs. the class of 2016, you are graduating at such an inflection point. since the start of the new millennia, we have already witnessed horrific terrorist attacks and war and the great recession. you have seen economic and technological and cultural shifts that are profoundly altering how we work and how we communicate, how we live, how we form families. the pace of change is not subsiding. it is accelerating. these changes offer not only great opportunities but also great peril. fortunately, your generation has everything it takes to lead this
country towards a brighter future. i am confident that you can make the right choices away from fear and paralysis and toward cooperation and innovation and hope. [applause] pres. obama: partly i'm confident because on average, you are smarter and better educated than my generation. although we probably have better penmanship. and we are certainly better spellers. [laughter] pres. obama: we did not have spellcheck back in my day.
you're not only better educated, you have been more exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures. you are more diverse, more environmentally conscious. you have a healthy skepticism for conventional wisdom. you have got the tools to lead us. precisely because i have so much confidence in you, 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. [laughter] you will look at things with pres. obama: you will look at things with fresh eyes, unencumbered by biases and blind spots and inertia and general crankiness of your parents and grandparents and old heads like me. i do have a couple of suggestions that you may find useful as you go out there and conquer the world. point number 1. when you hear someone longing for the good old days, take it with a grain of salt. [laughter] [applause] pres. obama: take it with a grain of salt.
we live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history. we are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came before you. i guess it's part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty to want to look backwards and long for some imaginary path where everything worked and the economy hummed and all politicians were wise and every child was well mannered and america did whatever it wanted around the world. guess what? it ain't so. the good old days were not all that good. yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster or when government ran more smoothly. there were moments when, immediately after world war ii, for example, or the end of the
cold war, when the world bent more easily to our will. but those are sporadic. those moments, those episodes. in fact, by almost every measure, america is better and the world is better than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago. [applause] pres. obama: and by the way, set aside 150 years ago, pre-civil war. there's a whole bunch of stuff there that we could talk about. set aside life in the 1950's, when women and people of color were systematically excluded from big chunks of american life.
since i graduated in 1983, which isn't that long ago, i'm just saying. [laughter] pres. obama: since i graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy, the share of americans living in poverty, they are all down. the share of americans with college educations have gone way up. our life expectancy has as well. blacks and latinos have risen up the ranks in business and politics. [applause] pres. obama: more women are in the workforce. they are earning more money. although it is long past time that we pass laws that make women get paid the same for the same work. [applause] pres. obama: meanwhile, in the eight years since most of you started high school, we are also better off. you and your fellow graduates are entering the job market with better prospects than any time
since 2007. 20 million more americans know the financial security of health insurance. we are less dependent on foreign oil. we have doubled the production of clean energy. we have cut high school dropout rates. we have cut the deficit by two thirds. marriage equality is the law of the land. [applause] pres. obama: and just as america is better, the world is better than when i graduated. since i graduated, the iron curtain fell. apartheid ended. there is more democracy. we virtually eliminated certain diseases like polio. we have cut extreme poverty drastically. we have cut infant mortality by an enormous amount. i say all these things not to make you complacent. we have got a bunch of big problems to solve.
i say it to point out that change has been a constant in our history and the reason america is better is because we did not look backwards. we do not fear the future. we seized the future and made it our own. and that is exactly why it has always been young people like you who have brought about a change. it's because you don't fear the future. that leads me to my second point. the world is more interconnected than ever before and it is becoming more connected every day. building walls won't change that. [applause] pres. obama: look, as president, my first responsibility is
always the security and prosperity of united states. as citizens, we all rightfully put our country first. but if the past two decades have taught us anything, it's that the biggest challenges we face cannot be solved in isolation. when overseas states start falling apart, they become breeding grounds for terrorism, ideologies of nihilism and despair that ultimately can reach our shores. when developing countries do not have functioning health systems, epidemics like zika or ebola can spread and threaten americans and a wall won't stop that. if we want to close loopholes that allow large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, we have to have other
countries help enforce financial laws. the point is, to help ourselves, we have got to help others, not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out. engagement does not mean deploying our military. there are times where we must take military action to protect ourselves and our allies. we are in awe of and grateful for the men and women who make up the finest fighting force the world has ever known. [applause] pres. obama: but i worry if we think that the entire burden of our engagement with the world is up to the 1% who serve in our military. the rest of us can just sit back and do nothing. they can't shoulder the entire
burden. engagement means using all the levers of our national power and rallying the world to take on our shared challenges. you look at something like trade, for example. we live in an age of global supply chains and cargo ships that crisscross oceans and online commerce that can render borders obsolete. a lot of folks have legitimate concerns with the way globalization has progressed. that is one of the changes that has been taken place -- jobs shipped overseas, trade deals that sometimes put workers and businesses at a disadvantage. the answer isn't to stop trading with other countries. in this global economy, that's impossible. the answer is to negotiate with other countries to raise their trade standards and environmental standards and to make sure they do not impose unfair tariffs on american goods or steal american intellectual property. that is how we make sure that international rules are
consistent with our values, including human rights. ultimately, that's how we help raise wages here in america. that is how we help our workers compete on a level playing field. building walls won't do that. [applause] pres. obama: it won't boost our economy and it won't enhance our security. isolating or disparaging muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country, that is not just a betrayal of our values -- [applause] pres. obama: that's not just a betrayal of who we are. it would alienate our communities at home and abroad who are most important partners in the fight against violent extremism. to suggest that we can build a wall along our borders and blame
our challenges on immigrants, that does not just run counter to our history as the world melting pot. it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe. that is how we became america. why would we want to stop it now? [applause] pres. obama: can't do it. which brings me to my third point. 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. [applause] pres. obama: that might seem obvious. [laughter] pres. obama: and that's why we honor bill moyers or dr. burnell. we traditionally have valued those things, but if you were listening to today's political debate, you might wonder where the strain of anti-intellectualism came from. [laughter]
[applause] pres. obama: so class of 2016, let me be as clear as i can be. in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. [applause] pres. obama: it's not cool to not know what you're talking about. [laughter] pres. obama: that's not keeping it real or telling it like it is. that's not challenging political correctness. that's just not knowing what you're talking about. [laughter] pres. obama: and yet, we have become confused about this. look, our nation's founders -- franklin, madison, hamilton, jefferson -- they were born of the enlightenment. they sought to escape superstition, and sectarianism,
and tribalism, and know-nothingness. they believed in rational thought and experimentation and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fate. that is embedded in our constitutional design. that spirit informs our ventures and our explorers -- the edisons and the wright brothers and the george washington carvers and the norman borlaugs and the steve jobs. that is what built this country. and today, in every phone in one of your pockets, we have access to more information than at any time in human history at a touch of a button. but ironically, the flood of information has not made us more discerning of the truth. in some ways, it has made us
more confident in our ignorance. we assume whatever is on the web must be true. we search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions. opinions masquerade as fact. the wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel. i am sure you have learned during your years of college, and if not, you will learn soon, that there are a whole lot of folks who are book smart and have no common sense. that is the truth. [laughter] [applause] pres. obama: you will meet them if you have not already. [laughter] pres. obama: the fact that they have a fancy degree, you have to talk to them to see whether they know what they are talking about. qualities like kindness and compassion, honesty and hard work, they often matter more
than technical skills and know-how. [applause] pres. obama: but, when our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they are not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and making stuff up, while actual experts are dismissed as elitists, we have a problem. it is interesting that if we get sick we want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school. if we want to get on a plane, we want the pilots to be able to pilot the plane. and yet in our public lives, we suddenly think, i don't want
someone who has done it before. [laughter] [applause] pres. obama: the rejection of fact, the rejection of reason, that is the path to decline. calls to mind the words of carl sagan, he said we can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good. the debate around climate change is a perfect example of this. i recognize it does not feel like the planet is warmer right now. [laughter] pres. obama: i understand. there was hail when i landed in newark. [laughter]
pres. obama: but think about the climate change issue. everyday day there are officials in high office, with responsibilities, who mock the overwhelming consensus of the world's scientists that human activity and methane and carbon dioxide and other substances are altering our climate in profound and dangerous ways. a while back, you might have seen a united states senator trotted out a snowball in the middle of winter as proof that the world was not warming. i mean, listen, climate change is not something subject to political spin. there is evidence, there are facts, we can see it happening right now. if we don't act, if we don't
follow through on the progress we made in paris and at home, brunt of this catastrophe. it is up to you to insist on an informed debate. imagine if benjamin franklin had seen that senator with a snowball. think. would imagine if your fifth grade science teacher had seen that. [laughter] pres. obama: he would get a "d" and he is a senator. look, i'm not suggesting that cold analysis and hard data are ultimately more important then passion, faith, love or loyalty. i am suggesting that those highest expressions of our humanity can only flourish when our economy functions well and
proposed budgets add up and our environment is protected. and to accomplish those things, to make collective decisions on behalf of a common good, we have to use our heads and agree that facts and evidence matter and hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to know what the heck they are talking about. [applause] pres. obama: all right. i only have two more points. i know it is getting cold and you guys have to graduate. point four, have faith in democracy. look, i know it is not always pretty. really, i know -- [laughter] pres. obama: i have been living it. but it is how we have made progress in this nation.
it is how we banned child labor, cleaned our air and water, passed social security and medicare. none of these changes happen overnight. it was not because a charismatic leader got everybody to agree on everything. it did not happen because of a massive political revolution. it actually happened over the course of years, of advocacy, and organizing. and alliance building. and deal making. and the changing of public opinion. it happened because ordinary americans who cared participated in the political process. [applause] pres. obama: so -- [applause]
pres. obama: that's nice, i helped. [laughter] pres. obama: look, if you want to change this country for the better, you better start participating. i will give you an example on a lot of people's minds, the growing inequality in our economy. over much of the last century, we have unleashed the strongest economic engine the world has ever seen, but over the past two decades our economy has become more and more unequal. the top 10% of earners take in half of all income in the u.s. in the past, a top ceo made 20 times the average worker. today, it is 300 times. wages are not rising fast enough for millions of hard-working
families. if we want to reverse those trends, there are a bunch of policies that would make a big difference. we could raise the minimum wage. we could modernize our infrastructure. we can make college more affordable. we can close tax loopholes on hedgefund managers and use that money to give tax breaks to help families with childcare or retirement. and if we did these things, we would help to restore the sense of hard workers and build an economy that works for everybody. the reason some of these things have not happened, even though the majority of people approve, is really simple. it is not because i wasn't proposing them. it wasn't because the facts and evidence showed they wouldn't work. it was because a huge chunk of americans, especially young people, do not vote. in 2014, voter turnout was the lowest since world war ii. fewer than one in five young people showed up to vote.
2014. the four who stayed home determined the course of this country as much as the one who voted. apathy has consequences. it determines who our congress is, what policies they prioritize. it even, for example, determines whether a fully highly qualified supreme court nominee receives the courtesy of a vote in the united states senate. [applause] pres. obama: and yes, big money in politics is a huge problem. we have got to reduce its influence. yes, special interests and lobbyists have disproportionate access.
but contrary to what we hear from both the left and the right, the system is not as rigged as you think and is not as hopeless as you think. politicians care about being elected, and especially reelected. if you vote and elect a politician that represents the majority of your views, you will get what you want. if you opt out or stop paying attention, you won't. it is that simple. it is not that complicated. [applause] pres. obama: one of the reasons people do not vote is because they do not see the changes they were looking for right away. well guess what, none of the great strides in our history happened right away. it took thurgood marshall and the naacp decades to win brown v board of education. it took more time after that for civilting rights and rights act. it took more time after that for
it to start working. it took a proud daughter in new jersey years of organizing marches and hunger strikes and protests and drafting hundreds of pieces of legislation and working with congressional leaders before she and other suffragists helped win women the right to vote. [applause] pres. obama: each stage along the way required compromise. sometimes you took half. you forged allies. sometimes you lost on an issue and came back to fight another day. that is how democracy works. you have got to be committed to participating not just to get immediate gratification, you have to be a citizen full-time, all the time. if participation means voting and compromise and organizing and advocacy, it also means listening to those who do not
agree with you. i know a couple of years ago, folks on this campus got upset that condoleezza was supposed to speak at commencement. i don't think it's a secret that i disagree with dr. rice and many policies from that administration. the notion that this community or country would not be served by hearing her or shutting out what she had to say, i believe that is misguided. i don't think that's how democracy works best, when we are not even willing to listen to each other. [applause] pres. obama: i believe that is misguided. if you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. hold their feet to the fire and make them defend their positions. if they have a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong.
engage it, debate it, stand up for what you believe in. don't be scared to take somebody on. don't feel like you got to check your ears off because you are too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. go at them. if they are not making any sense. use your logic and reason and words. and by doing so, you will strengthen your position and hone your arguments and maybe you will learn something and realize you do not know everything. and you may have a new understanding, not only of what your opponents believe, but what you believe. either way, you win. and more importantly, our democracy wins. [applause] pres. obama: so, anyway, all right. that's it, class of 2016. a few suggestions on how you can change the world.
except maybe i have one last suggestion. just one. [applause] pres. obama: and that is -- gear yourself for the long haul. whatever path you choose, business, nonprofit, government, education, health care, the arts, whatever it is, you are going to have setbacks. you will deal occasionally with foolish people. you will be frustrated. you will have a boss that is not great. you won't always get everything you want, at least not as fast as you want it. so you have to stick with it, you have to be persistent.
and success, however small and incomplete, success is still -- i always tell my daughters, better is good. it may not be perfect or great, but it is good. that is how progress happens, in society and our own lives. don't lose hope. sometimes you hit a roadblock. don't lose hope in the face of naysayers and certainly don't let resistance make you cynical. cynicism is so easy and cynics don't accomplish much. as a friend of mine who happens to be from new jersey, a guy named bruce springsteen, once said -- [applause] pres. obama: -- they spend their lives waiting for a moment that just don't come. don't let that be you, don't waste your time waiting. if you doubt you can make a difference, look at the impact your fellow graduates are already making. look at what matthew is doing.
look at jasmine, who helps kids deal with bullying, and muslim bias and discrimination. [applause] pres. obama: and here at rutgers, helped the administration work with police to make that happen. look at somebody like madison little, who grew up dealing with health issues and started wondering what it would be like if you live somewhere else. he took charge of a student nonprofit and work with people in australia and cambodia to address the aids epidemic. my peers give me hope that we will overcome the obstacles in society. that is you. is it any wonder i am optimistic?
throughout our history, a new generation of americans has reached up and bent the arc of history in the direction of more freedom and opportunity and justice. class of 2016, it is your turn now to shape our nation's destiny. as well as your own. so get to work! make sure the next 250 years are better than the last. good luck. god bless you. god bless this country we love. [applause] pres. obama: thank you, everybody. [applause]
applause]d think today we kind of catch up to the second half of thelast century will stop tv coverage of members of our college in the house. >> today as the senate comes out of the communication start ages we have created another historic moment and the relationship between congress and technological advancement through radio and television.
years ago our executive branch began up bring on television. they marks the first day legislative branch in its entirety will appear on that medium of communication through theirmost americans get information about what our country and government does. chamberising senate meetings is wise. broadcast recognizes the basic right and need out the citizens of our nation to know the business of their government. announcer: thursday, c-span marks the 30th anniversary of our live gavel-to-guy fall -- our live in level-two-gavel coverage. to ask this question, do you trust william jefferson clinton? >> we have just witnessed
something that has never before happened in all history, the change of power during a session of congress. ask what the american people do not understand in this bill is there are three areas that in the next five years will put the government in charge of everybody's health care. >> i am sure i have made a number of mistakes in my career against televised notions in the senate was one of them. >> beginning thursday on c-span. our 30 years of coverage on c-span2, go to c-span.org. >> this memorial day, we continue to look at 2016 commencement speeches from colleges and universities around the country. next, we will hear from former fcc chairman michael powell who now heads the national cable and
telecommunications association. later, we will show you nasa astronaut jeanette epps, and oracle founder larry ellison. nca chair michael powell was a commencement speaker for pepperdine university in malibu, california. he talked about the effects of technology on society, and the importance of a liberal art education. he also shared how an injury he sustained in the military taught him about relationships and perseverance. mr. powell is the son of former secretary of state, colin powell. his remarks are 15 minutes. mr. powell: good, glorious morning, it is a pleasure to be here. i want to start off by thinking the provost and the faculty, the president and the administration, and the students for bestowing upon me the exceptional honor of joining the pepperdine community.