Overflow stadium crowd braves heat to hear upbeat message
TEMPE – President Obama apologized for “stealing away” former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and urged students to never stop achieving as he made a commencement speech Wednesday night at Arizona State University.
Some 63,000 people filled the stands and most of the football field at Sun Devil Stadium.
It will be up to young people to redefine success, Obama told graduates, from materialistic greed to building a quality life while taking on the nation’s challenges. That means serving a higher purpose than themselves, he said.
Developing clean energy and improving failing schools will be this generation’s job, he said. He pointed to his own job title and said that doesn’t define success, comparing Abraham Lincoln to Millard Fillmore.
Being a superpower isn’t enough for America, he said. It must be mindful of the struggles of the rest of the world.
“Class of 2009, that’s why we’re going to need your help,” he said of issues such as global warming, rebuilding the economy and solving other “unprecedented” problems.
Careers such as engineering and teaching can be crafted with service in mind, he said.
A body of work is never finished, he said. He went on to cite the achievements of people who never gave up, including Kurt Warner, a former Arena Football League player who led the Arizona Cardinals to their first Super Bowl in 2009.
He also pointed to late achievers Julia Child, Col. Sanders and Winston Churchill.
While acknowledging that graduates were facing a tough economy – the nation has lost 1.3 million jobs since February – he called the challenges an opportunity.
“Because it’s moments like these that force us to try harder and dig deeper and to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us. So don’t ever shy away from that endeavor,” Obama said during a speech that invoked the bravery firefighters demonstrated on Sept. 11, 2001, and the civil rights movement.
“Don’t stop adding to your body of work. As a nation, we’ll need a fundamental change of perspective and attitude,” he said. “It’s clear that we need to build a new foundation – a stronger foundation – for our economy and our prosperity, rethinking how we grow our economy, how we use energy, how we educate our children, how we care for our sick, how we treat our environment.”
Some 9,000 students were awarded diplomas at Sun Devil Stadium on a day when the high temperature in Phoenix was 101, but Obama wasn’t going to be one of them. University officials declined to give him an honorary degree, saying he had not yet accomplished enough to deserve the honor.
“His body of work is yet to come. That’s why we’re not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency,” university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said shortly after the school’s student newspaper reported the decision.
Obama said he “heartily concurred” with that assessment.
Officials later backtracked and instead named a scholarship in honor of the nation’s first African-American president. The President Barack Obama Scholars program will offer students up to $17,000 annually to pay for tuition, books, room and board.
Some sweated the wait for Obama’s speech. An official at the university’s emergency operations center said about 95 people were treated for heat-related illness while waiting for Obama’s address. None of the illnesses was considered life-threatening.
Rocker and Phoenix-area resident Alice Cooper was to perform “School’s Out.”
Obama was to fly to Albuquerque, N.M., after the speech. The president planned to have a town hall-style meeting Thursday in Albuquerque on proposed restrictions on credit card companies before he returned to Washington.
The White House has announced Obama plans other commencement addresses at the University of Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Student protests were expected Sunday at Notre Dame over Obama’s support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.
By Citizen Staff Report, Wire Report