Entries in Commencement (8)


Obama to Graduating Cadets: World Has a 'New Feeling about America'

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- Touting his foreign policy record, President Obama on Wednesday told students graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy that they will be entering into a “new era of American leadership” because of the steps taken by his administration.

“Today, we can say with confidence and pride -- the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world,” the president told the roughly 1,000 graduates gathered in the Air Force football stadium.

Rather than offering the traditional advice, the president used the commencement address to hit upon several campaign themes and draw stark contrasts with his GOP rival Mitt Romney.

The president made clear his belief that “America is exceptional,” a defense against Romney who has questioned Obama's belief in America as a unique and unrivaled world power.

“The world stage is not a popularity contest,” Obama said as he defended his foreign policy decisions. “As a nation, we have vital interests, and we will do what is necessary to defend the country we love---even if it's unpopular.  But make no mistake, how we’re viewed in the world has consequences---for our national security, for your lives.”

Obama argued “there’s a new feeling about America” because of the progress made by his administration. “There's a new confidence in our leadership.  And when people around the world are asked 'Which country do you admire most?' nation comes out on top---the United States of America,” he said.

The president pointed to the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan as proof that the cadets are stepping into “a different world.”

“You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq,” he said. “For the first time in your lives--and thanks to Air Force personnel who did their part--Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country.  We've put al Qaeda on the path to defeat.  And you are the first graduates since 9/11 who can see clearly how we'll end the war in Afghanistan.”

“We aren't just ending these wars, we're doing so in a way that makes us safer, and stronger,” he added.

Obama also highlighted the Arab Spring, saying the U.S. “led from the front” in Libya, a response to Republicans who have said the president is leading from behind.

Looking to the future, the president defended budget cuts that will create a “leaner” military, insisting the U.S. will remain “the finest, most capable military the world has ever known.”

“We'll keep our military, and our Air Force, fast, flexible and versatile,” he said. “We will maintain our military superiority in all areas -- air, land, sea, space and cyber.”

The president then stood for over two hours and saluted each graduate, shaking their hands as they received their diploma and saluted their Commander in Chief in return.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary Sebelius Speaks at Catholic College Despite Protests

USHHS(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius barely got out two sentences Friday before a protester at the Georgetown University Public Policy Commencement sprung to his feet calling her a “murderer.”

The audience began booing the protester to drown out his cries, making the rest of his outburst inaudible.

Sebelius, however, barely missed a beat. After her initial surprise she continued her talk, saying “having spent my entire life in public service," drawing laughter from the audience, which was clearly on her side.

After he was escorted out, the same protester could be heard running up the hall outside the auditorium and attempting to reenter. All while screaming what sounded like “Judah,”  probably in reference to Genesis 38, where Judah orders a woman to be burned to death, despite the fact she was three months pregnant.

Debate from Sebelius stemmed from her speaking at a Catholic and Jesuit university after the March 14 “statement on religious freedom and HHS mandate” which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) strongly opposed.

In a statement from the university president, John DeGioia, said the invitation is not a “challenge” to the USCCB, as some interpreted it to be.

Clarifying that the invitation came prior to the January 20 announcement by the Obama administration of modifications to healthcare regulations, and that her “presence on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views” and that the university “disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings.”

The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative watchdog group, and their President Patrick J. Reilly, however, condemned the choice and urged the president to “withdraw the invitation” and called the move to invite her “scandalous and outrageous.”

They also sent an online petition with more than 25,000 signatures to DeGioia, which according to their blog “is part of CNS’ ongoing efforts to promote a renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic institutions of higher learning.”

The students selected the secretary in the “spirit” of her experience and career in public policy.

“We expect that her remarks will not be a political statement, but will reflect the experiences she has had throughout her life in public service,” a student letter to the president explained.

The faculty of the public policy institute also issued a letter to the president Thursday saying the university “cannot permit outside protests to dictate who will and will not be allowed to address out community” and that “speech should be answered by speech, not by efforts to shut down discussion and free exchange.”

The five or six protesters outside the commencement held signs stating “Abortion is Murder.”

Sebelius drew off her own experiences and offered the new graduates two key pieces of advice.

Her first “hope” was to “always hold on to your commitment to work for the common good.  If you let that focus guide you, you will never go off course,” she said.

While her second piece of advice was to not “wait.”

“Go ahead and do it yourself -- because if you don’t, it might never happen,” she said.

 Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Yankees Fan Sonia Sotomayor Addresses Graduates at Yankee Stadium

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had three opening words as she addressed the graduates of New York University on Wednesday who were holding their ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

“This is a-w-e-some," she said.

“I grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx just a few miles away from the old Yankee Stadium,” the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court justice told the graduates. “So, for me, this event at the new stadium is momentous."

"Nothing in my childhood hinted to me that I would be in a position someday to stand on this field and speak to such a large crowd,” she said. “As a child, I only saw the stadium on television when I watched baseball games next to my dad on the sofa. So it is not hard to understand how delighted I am to be here with you today."

Next, Sotomayor launched into a nostalgic tribute to her hometown.

“I have felt excitement in returning to New York,” she said. “My new home, Washington D.C., is lovely, and I have been warmly welcomed by my new colleagues, the court family and the residents of my new city, but every time I cross a bridge or a tunnel to return to New York for a visit my heart sighs with joy. I love this city and all it has given me."

“Stand in the middle of a New York City street and you sense immediately the magnitude of this city. I remember coming to Manhattan as a child to visit the Empire State Building, looking up and being amazed that I could not see its top. Walk around Manhattan and you will inevitably see tourists craning their necks upwards to find the tops of buildings and bumping into new Yorkers hurrying somewhere. The feeling of bigness can be overwhelming initially, but there is a magic in being a part of this city once you have lived here. I love having New York in me....The cacophony of New York is as overwhelming, at times, as its size. Nothing is small in this city. Everything is large, big and noisy -- including its problems. Yet the city does not merely survive -- it thrives.”

Sotomayor encouraged the audience to tackle challenges.

“I dreamed about graduating from college,” she said. “Up to that point, none of my family in New York had done that. Then I grew bold and dreamed about becoming a lawyer and, someday, becoming a judge. But the only kind of judge I knew about was a trial judge on Perry Mason. I did not know what the Supreme Court was, and you can’t aspire to do things you don’t know.”

She said that fear is a part of the game and admitted to being a little frightened during every step in her life, including becoming a Supreme Court justice.

“Just keep dreaming,” she concluded, “and keep enjoying the process of new discoveries.”

Video of the speech can be viewed here.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Addresses Coast Guard Cadets, References Osama Bin Laden

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- During his commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., on Wednesday, President Obama briefly referenced Osama Bin Laden as he reminded the assembled crowd of 1,500 that they should be proud of the "brave military and intelligence personnel who made sure the terrorist leader who attacked us on 9/11 will never do so again."

In his 20-minute speech, the president praised the graduating class of 229 Coast Guard cadets for choosing a life of service in a branch of the military that is often overlooked. He reminded the audience that it was often Coast Guard personnel who were first on the scene at many of the world's largest natural disasters. He said that their role in protecting the nation's shores and ports could not be overestimated. The president added that "even today...the Coast Guard rescues Americans from the surging Mississippi."

The president spoke before a packed crowd in the Leamy Hall Auditorium on the 100-acre campus nestled on the Thames River in Connecticut. Calling it a day of "expectations," the president said the nation had high expectations of this graduating class as they fan out across the country to serve and continue the "hard work of protecting our country."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


In Memphis, Obama Meets with Flood Victims, Speaks at Graduation

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- President Obama traveled to Memphis on Monday for a private meeting with families and local officials impacted by Mississippi River flooding and for a commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School, the winner of the White House "Race to the Top Commencement Challenge."

In the morning, President Obama spent approximately 35 minutes meeting with flood victims, first responders and local officials, hearing stories about people having to evacuate their homes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. The president thanked the people he met with and said, "We're there for you, and we're grateful for your resilience," according to Carney.

The president did not observe any flooding visible from outside his window aboard Air Force One, and there were no signs of flooding along the route his motorcade took driving to the school.

Obama made mention of those affected by natural disasters during commencement address. He said "The success of our economy will depend on your skills, but the success of our community will depend on your ability to follow the Golden Rule -- to treat others as you would like to be treated.  We've seen how important this is even in the past few weeks, as communities in Memphis and all across the South have banded together to deal with flood waters and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes."

Obama used a portion of his remarks to argue that his education programs have inspired communities to make change. He told the graduates that Booker T. Washington's commencement was especially hopeful because the graduates -- who come from tough neighborhoods in Memphis -- weren't handed anything on a silver platter. "You had to work for it. You had to earn it," the president said.

Booker T. Washington High School is in an impoverished part of Memphis, and Obama said some people think schools in rough communities aren't supposed to succeed. "Well, we are here today because every single one of you stood tall and said, "Yes we can," Obama said, evoking his former campaign slogan. "Yes we can learn.  Yes we can succeed."

Obama told the school that he made it out for their ceremony because the community had created a culture of caring and learning; more than four out of five students earned a diploma this year -- a great turnaround from four years ago when only about half of the students were graduating.

"If success can happen here at Booker T. Washington, it can happen anywhere in Memphis," he said.  "And it can happen throughout Tennessee.  And it can happen all across America."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Surprises Tennessee High School Seniors at Graduation

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- Amid tears and shrieks, President Obama on Monday surprised a roomful of high school graduates in Memphis, Tennessee. The president was to speak later at the Booker T. Washington High School Commencement ceremony but the unknowing high school seniors, moments before attending their graduation ceremony, were surprised to have some extra face time with the president.

"I just want to say how inspired we were," Obama said to the surprised students waiting to go into their graduation ceremony. "We were inspired by the video you sent, inspired by the stories you told. We were inspired by how you turned this school around. Obviously a lot of that has to do with your outstanding principal."

The school had won the second annual "Commencement Challenge" this year issued by the White House, awarding the school with a winning entry video demonstrating the school's commitment to preparing students for college and a career.

The high school is in an impoverished area close to the site of Martin Luther King's assassination and where Benjamin Hooks, the late head of the NAACP, attended high school. Memphis has been hit hard by recent flooding as well.

Many among the 155 graduates, dressed in green and yellow caps and gowns, were crying, and President Obama at one point consoled a girl in the front row with her head down sobbing.

"This is just the beginning, this is not the end," Obama said noting that he has "big expectation" for them.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama Praises SEALs in Commencement Speech

ABC/Donna Svennevik(CEDAR FALLS, Iowa) -- First lady Michelle Obama on Saturday praised the bravery of the Navy SEALs who carried out the raid on Osama bin Laden, calling it "the essence of the word 'service,'" in her commencement address at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

The theme of her address to the graduating students was the value of service to others.

"Just imagine, a small group of brave men, dropped by helicopter, half a world away in the dead of night into unknown danger inside the lair of the most wanted man in the world," said the first lady. "They did not hesitate, risking everything for us, for our freedom and security.

"And they did it not just as Navy SEALs. They did it as husbands, as fathers, as sons," she said. "Their families were back here, with no idea of their mission or whether their loved one would ever come home. That is the very essence of the word 'service.'

"And the least we can do is give something back to these troops and their families who have given us so much."

This speech marks the first time a person from the White House administration directly publicly acknowledged the SEALs' role in the raid on bin Laden.

Obama's commencement address was also the first of the 2011 graduation season and her first visit to Iowa since the 2008 presidential election, which she warmly talked about during the 30-minute speech.

"The more that I shared my story with all of you and you shared your stories with me, the more I realized that what truly connects us is our shared values, in the end there is so much more that unites us than divides us," Obama said.

About 17,000 people gathered in the UNI-Dome for the graduation ceremony, which featured the Northern Iowa Symphony's "Fanfare for a First Lady," a piece composed by Rebecca Burkhardt, a UNI music professor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Commencement Challenge: Obama to Speak at Winners’ Graduation

Photo Courtesy - SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the second year, President Obama is challenging public high school students to compete for an opportunity to have him speak at their 2011 graduation commencement as part of the administration’s “Race to the Top” Commencement Challenge.

"The winning school will understand that their number one priority is making sure that our kids are learning what they need to succeed in this 21st century economy,” President Obama said in announcing the contest again this year.

“I’m looking for the school that’s doing the best job of preparing students for college and careers,” President Obama said in a written statement Tuesday announcing the competition.

One thousand schools participated in last year’s competition, which Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan won. The president spoke, as promised, during the school’s graduation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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