President Obama Delivers Commencement Address at Miami Dade College

Uploaded by whitehouse on 30.04.2011

Hafeeza Rahman: Mr. President, President Padrón, members of the board of
trustees, honored guests, faculty, staff and
fellow graduates. It is my
great honor to introduce our commencement speaker.
The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Mr. President, as we reach this most important
milestone in our lives.
We feel that you have understood our journey.
That in some mysterious way, you have traveled with us.
With your father from Kenya, your mother from Kansas,
scholarships and student loans from Harvard all the
way to the White House.
You are one man's expression of a wonderous American dream.
We have dreamed the same dream.
We the students of Miami Dade College born of traditions and
cultures of 182 countries, have arrived at this moment.
An American birth right, our college graduation.
And we know that you have long ago understood that birth right.
Understood our most basic drive to learn and grow as human
beings and from that foundation to contribute to our families
and our communities, to make a difference in our
short time on this planet.
We know this, because you have prioritized education
as no president has before,
and you have come to recognize what we have come
to cherish, the open doors of Miami Dade College.
And community colleges across this country.
In this city, at this college, we say opportunity changes
everything, and we know that you get it.
That if our nation is once again to lead the world in
achievements of college degrees as you have challenged us.
It will be because of people just like you,
and people just like us.
The graduates before you today.
These graduates were given a chance to shine.
We are the proof.
Opportunity really does change everything.
Mr. President we welcome you, though you and your wife have
been with us before, and are a part of the family already.
But this day as President Padrón has said many times,
is the most important date on the MDC calendar.
This is graduation day, and we are thrilled and honored that
you are here with us today.
Graduates please join me in welcoming our
2011 commencement speaker.
The President of the United States, Barack Obama.
The President: Thank you, Miami Dade!
Thank you.
Please, everyone, be seated.
Hafeeza, thank you for that wonderful introduction.
To Dr. Padrón, Dr. Vicente, to the board of trustees,
the faculty, parents, family, friends, and, most important,
the class of 2011, congratulations --
-- congratulations on reaching this day.
And thank you for allowing me the profound honor
of being a part of it.
And thank you for my first honorary associate degree.
One of the perks of this job is that
degrees come free these days.
Not that it impresses anybody at home.
Now Michelle just says, "Hey, Doctor,
go take that dog for a walk."
It is such a thrill to be at one of the largest,
most diverse institutions of higher learning in America --
one that just this week was named one of the top community
colleges in the nation.
More than 170,000 students study across your eight campuses.
You come from 181 countries, represented by the flags that
just marched across this stage.
You speak 94 languages.
About 90% of you are minorities.
And because more than 90% of you find a job in your field of
study, it's fitting that your motto is
"Opportunity changes everything."
As someone who's only here because of the chances my
education gave me, I couldn't agree more.
Opportunity changes everything.
America will only be as strong in this new century as the
opportunities that we provide you --
the opportunities that we provide to all our young people
-- Latino, black, white, Asian, Native American, everybody.
America will only be as strong as our pursuit of scientific
research and our leadership in technology and innovation.
And I believe that community colleges like this one are
critical pathways to the middle class that equip students with
the skills and the education necessary to compete and win in
this 21st-century economy.
And that's why I've made community colleges a centerpiece
of my education agenda, along with helping more
students afford college.
I couldn't be prouder of the work we've
done in community colleges.
And your accomplishment today is vital to America reclaiming the
highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
So I am proud of you.
I am proud of you.
I know that for many of you reaching this day wasn't easy.
Audience: No.
The President: See?
I got some amens there.
Perhaps you're the first in your family to go to college.
Some of you have had to overcome big obstacles,
defeat your own doubts, prove yourself to everyone who ever
believed that you couldn't make it because of what you look like
or where you came from.
And, of course -- of course, for so many of you,
this day represents the fulfillment of your family's
dreams when you were born.
This is their achievement as well,
so give it up for your parents and your grandparents,
your cousins and your uncles and your aunties.
This is their day, too.
This is their day, too.
See, the diploma you're about to receive stands for something
more than the investment you made in yourselves.
It's the result of an investment made by generations before you;
an investment in that radical yet simple idea that America is
a place -- the place -- where you can make it if you try.
That's the ideal that has made this country --
that's the idea that's represented by that one flag
that all of you cheered for; that's what has made us a
shining light to the world.
And preserving this idea -- keeping the American Dream
alive from one generation to the next -- that's
never been an easy task.
It's an even greater test in times of rapid change.
And all of you are graduating at a moment when change is
coming faster than ever before.
We're emerging from an economic downturn like we
haven't seen since the 1930s.
Massive shifts in technology have shifted profoundly
what our economy looks like.
Massive shifts abroad geopolitically have swift and
dramatic impacts not only overseas but also here at home,
from markets on Wall Street to wallets on Main Street.
Just as advances in technology have the power to make our
lives better, they also force us to compete with other
nations like never before.
Tackling big challenges like terrorism and climate change
require sustained national effort, and yet too often,
our politics seems as broken, as divided as ever.
So I know that for many of you it's an intimidating time to
be marching out into the world.
Everything seems so unsettled.
The future may seem unclear.
But as you make your way in this ever changing world,
you should take comfort in knowing that as a country,
we've navigated tougher times before.
We've sailed stormier seas.
Earlier today, I spent some time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
And some of you have seen what happened there as a consequence
of the tornadoes that struck.
The mayor and I visited a community where the devastation
from this storm was simply heartbreaking --
entire homes and blocks just gone, wiped away.
Some families lost everything.
Some families lost family.
But what was striking is the way that damaged community has
come together, how they've rallied around one another.
The mayor there, young man doing wonderful work,
Mayor Maddox, he put it best.
He told me that when disasters like this strike,
all our grievances seem to go away.
All our differences don't seem to matter.
All our political disagreements seem so petty.
We help each other, we support one another,
as one country, as one people.
That's the American spirit.
No matter how hard we are tested,
we look to our faith and our faith in one another.
No matter what the challenge, we've always carried the
American Dream forward.
That's been true throughout our history.
When bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, when an Iron Curtain fell over
Europe, when the threat of nuclear war loomed just 90 miles
from this city, when a brilliant September morning was darkened
by terror -- in none of those instances did we falter.
We endured.
We carried the dream forward.
We've gone through periods of great economic turmoil,
from an economy where most people worked on farms to one
where most people worked in factories to now one fueled by
information and technology.
Through it all, we've persevered.
We've adapted.
We've prospered.
Workers found their voice, and the right to organize
for fair wages and safe working conditions.
We carried forward.
When waves of Irish and Italian immigrants were derided as
criminals and outcasts; when Catholics were discriminated
against, or Jews had to succumb to quotas,
or Muslims were blamed for society's ills;
when blacks were treated as second-class citizens and
marriages like my own parents' were illegal in much of the
country -- we didn't stop.
We didn't accept inequality.
We fought.
We overcame.
We carried the dream forward.
We have carried this dream forward through times when
our politics seemed broken.
This is not the first time where it looked like
politicians were going crazy.
In heated debates over our founding,
some warned independence would doom America to "a scene of
bloody discord and desolation for ages."
That was the warning about independence.
One of our greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson,
was labeled an "infidel" and a "howling atheist" with "fangs."
Think about that.
Even I haven't gotten that one yet.
Lincoln -- Lincoln, FDR, they were both vilified in their own
times as tyrants, power hungry, bent on destroying democracy.
And of course, this state has seen its fair share
of tightly contested elections.
And we've made it through those moments.
None of it was easy.
A lot of it was messy.
Sometimes there was violence.
Sometimes it took years, even decades,
for us to find our way through.
But here's the thing.
We made it through.
We made it through because in each of those moments,
we made a choice.
Rather than turn inward and wall off America from the rest of the
world, we've chosen to stand up forcefully for the ideals and
the rights we believe are universal for all men and women.
Rather than settle for an America where everybody is left
to fend for themselves, where we think only about our own
short-term needs instead of the country that we're leaving to
our children, we have chosen to build a nation where everybody
has a shot at opportunity, where everyone can succeed.
We've chosen to invest in our people and in their future --
building public schools, sending a generation to
college on the GI Bill, laying highways and railroads,
building ports all across the country.
Rather than turn on each other in times of cultural upheaval,
we've chosen to march, to organize, to sit-in,
to turn out, to petition our government for women's rights
and voting rights and civil rights --
even in the face of fierce resistance --
because we are Americans; and no matter who we are or what we
look like, we believe that in this country, all are equal,
all are free.
Rather than give in to the voices suggesting we set our
sights lower, downsize our dreams,
or settle for something less, we've chosen again and again
to make America bigger, bolder, more diverse,
more generous, more hopeful.
Because throughout our history, what has distinguished
us from all other nations is not just our wealth,
it's not just our power.
It's been our deep commitment to individual freedom and personal
responsibility, but also our unshakeable commitment to one
another -- a recognition that we share a future;
that we rise or fall together; that we are part of a common
enterprise that is greater, somehow,
than the sum of its parts.
So, yes, class of 2011, change will be a
constant in your lives.
And that can be scary.
That can be hard.
And sometimes you'll be tempted to turn inward;
to say "What's good enough for me is good enough."
Sometimes you'll be tempted to turn on one another;
to say "My problems are the fault of those who don't look
like me or sound like me."
Sometime you'll be tempted to give into those voices that
warn: "too hard," "don't try," "no, you can't."
But I have faith you will reject those voices.
I have faith you will reject those impulses.
Your generation was born into a world with fewer walls;
a world educated in an era of information,
tempered by war and economic turmoil.
And as our globe has grown smaller and more connected,
you've shed the heavy weights of earlier generations.
Your generation has grown up more accepting and tolerant of
people for who they are, regardless of race or gender or
religious belief; regardless of creed or sexual orientation.
That's how you've grown up.
You see our diversity as a strength, not a weakness.
And I believe those life experiences have fortified
you, as earlier generations were fortified,
to meet the tests of our time.
Everything I have seen of your generation has shown me that you
believe, as deeply as any previous generation,
that America can always change for the better.
Class of 2011, you and your generation are now
responsible for our future.
I'm only going to be President a little bit longer.
You are going to be leaders for many years to come.
You will have to make choices to keep our dream alive
for the next generation.
Choices about whether we'll stack the deck against workers
and the middle class, or whether we make sure America remains a
place where if you work hard you can get ahead.
You're going to have to make a choice about whether we'll say
we can't afford to educate our young people and send them to
college, or whether we continue to be a country that makes
investments that are necessary to keep those young people
competitive in this new century.
It will be up to you to choose whether we'll remain vulnerable
to swings in oil prices or whether we invest in the clean
energy that can break our dependence on oil and
protect our planet.
It will be your choice as to whether we break our promise to
seniors and the poor and the disabled and tell them to fend
for themselves, or whether we keep strengthening our social
safety net and our health care system.
And it will be up to you whether we'll turn on one another,
or whether we stay true to our values of fairness and
opportunity, understanding that we are a nation of immigrants --
immigrants that built this country into an economic
powerhouse and a beacon of hope around the world.
I know this last issue generates some passion.
I know that several young people here have recently identified
themselves as undocumented.
Some were brought here as young children,
and discovered the truth only as adults.
And they've put their futures on the line in hopes it will spur
the rest of us to live up to our most cherished values.
I strongly believe we should fix our broken immigration system.
Fix it so that it meets our 21st-century economic and
security needs.
And I want to work with Democrats and Republicans, yes,
to protect our borders, and enforce our laws,
and address the status of millions of
undocumented workers.
And I will keep fighting alongside many of you to make
the DREAM Act the law of the land.
Like all of this country's movements towards justice,
it will be difficult and it will take time.
I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and
change the law myself.
But that's not how democracy works.
See, democracy is hard.
But it's right.
Changing our laws means doing the hard work of changing minds
and changing votes, one by one.
And I am convinced we can change the laws,
because we should all be able to agree that it makes no
sense to expel talented young people from our country.
They grew up as Americans.
They pledge allegiance to our flag.
And if they are trying to serve in our military or earn a
degree, they are contributing to our future --
and we welcome those contributions.
We didn't raise the Statue of Liberty with its back to the
world; we raised it with its light to the world.
Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave
ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the
Rio Grande -- we are one people.
We need one another.
Our patriotism is not rooted in ethnicity,
but in a shared belief of the enduring and
permanent promise of this country.
That's the promise redeemed by your graduation today.
That's the promise that drew so many of you to this college and
your parents to this country.
And that's the promise that drew my own father here.
I didn't know him well, my father --
and he lived a troubled life.
But I know that when he was around your age,
he dreamed of something more than his lot in life.
He dreamed of that magical place;
he dreamed of coming to study in America.
And when I was around your age, I traveled back to his home
country of Kenya for the first time to learn his story.
And I went to a tiny village called Alego,
where his stepmother still lives in the house where he grew up,
and I visited his grave.
And I asked her if there was anything left for me
to know him by.
And she opened a trunk, and she took out a stack of letters --
and this is an elderly woman who doesn't read or write --
but she had saved these letters, more than 30 of them,
written in his hand and addressed to colleges and
universities all across America.
They weren't that different from the letters that I wrote when I
was trying to get into college, or the ones that you wrote when
you were hoping to come here.
They were written in the simple, sometimes
awkward, sometimes grammatically incorrect,
unmistakably hopeful voice of somebody who is just desperate
for a chance -- just desperate to live his unlikely dream.
And somebody at the University of Hawaii --
halfway around the world -- chose to give him that chance.
And because that person gave a young man a chance,
he met a young woman from Kansas;
they had a son in the land where all things are possible.
And one of my earliest memories from growing up in Hawaii,
is of sitting on my grandfather's shoulders to see
the astronauts from one of the Apollo space missions come
ashore after a successful splashdown.
You remember that no matter how young you are as a child.
It's one of those unforgettable moments when you first realize
the miracle that is what this country is capable of.
And I remember waving a little American flag on top of my
grandfather's shoulders, thinking about those astronauts,
and thinking about space.
And today, on this day, more than 40 years later,
I took my daughters to the Kennedy Space Center.
And even though we didn't get to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour
launch, we met some of the astronauts,
and we toured the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
And looking at my daughters, I thought of how
things come full circle.
I thought of all that we've achieved as a nation since I was
their age, a little brown boy sitting on my grandfather's
shoulders -- and I thought about all I want us to achieve
by the time they have children of their own.
That's my proof that the idea of America endures.
That's my evidence that our brave
endeavor on this Earth continues.
And every single day I walk into the Oval Office,
and for all the days of my life, I will always remember that
in no other nation on Earth could my story be possible,
could your stories be possible.
That is something I celebrate.
That is something that drives every decision I make.
So what I ask of you, graduates, as you walk out of here
today is this: Pursue success.
Do not falter.
When you make it, pull somebody else up.
Preserve our dream.
Remember your life is richer when people around you have a
shot at opportunity as well.
Strive to widen that circle of possibility;
strive to forge that big, generous,
optimistic vision of America that we inherited;
strive to carry that dream forward to future generations.
Thank you.
May God bless you.
May God bless the United States of America.