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Obama urges graduates not to fear government

Delivers message of optimism as economy ralles

“Yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas — that people who love their country can change it for the better,” President Obama said.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Acknowledging that commencement addresses are no place for partisanship, President Obama nonetheless hovered close to that political line on Sunday, telling graduates at Ohio State University to ignore antigovernment movements that ‘‘gum up the works.’’

Instead, he said, they should aspire to be citizens who are engaged in their government and who value both individual rights and community responsibilities.

‘‘Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems,’’ Obama told the crowd at the Ohio State commencement ceremony, which totaled almost 60,000 people. ‘‘They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.’’


About 60,000 graduates, relatives, and friends turned the university’s huge football stadium into a sea of red and gray, the school’s colors.

Obama noted it was his fifth visit to the campus in the past year, reflecting the importance of Ohio and young voters to his reelection in November. The president held his first major rally of the 2012 campaign at Ohio State.

But this was the president’s first trip here in his young second term, which has already faced setbacks in Congress over the budget, an immigration overhaul, and legislation to reduce gun violence.

Obama is now confronting the escalating violence in the Middle East and a push to overcome Republican opposition to an overhaul of immigration law that would provide a path to citizenship to about 11 million people who are in the country illegally.

On Wednesday in Austin, Texas, Obama will resume his occasional trips outside Washington to press for long-blocked initiatives supporting infrastructure projects, education, and a higher minimum wage. He plans to make more trips every few weeks.

In the commencement speech Sunday, the first of three that he plans to give during this graduation season, Obama mostly steered clear of those subjects and others dividing him and Republicans, to deliver an address that was a pitch for good citizenship and an optimistic message for the graduates about their futures as the economy recovers from the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.


‘‘While things are still hard for a lot of people, you have every reason to believe that your future is bright,’’ Obama said. ‘‘You are graduating into an economy and a job market that are steadily healing.’’

The president described the graduates’ generation as having ‘‘a deep sense of service that makes me optimistic for our future.’’ Ohio State’s class of 2013, he noted, included military veterans, volunteers for the Peace Corps and Teach for America, and entrepreneurs already running start-up companies. Their lives, he said, started as the Cold War was ending and the Internet age was beginning, and they came of age as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, wars, recession, and technological advances transformed America.

‘‘You have been tested and you’ve been tempered by events that your parents and I never imagined we’d see when we sat where you sit,’’ he said. ‘‘And yet despite all this, or more likely because of it, yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas — that people who love their country can change it for the better.’’

Obama urged the graduates to find not just a career but a cause for the greater good. Perhaps, he said, they might even run for public office.


‘‘I promise you, it’ll give you a tough skin. I know a little bit about this,’’ he said. ‘‘President Wilson once said, ‘If you want to make enemies, try to change something.’ ’’

The administration believes Americans are still concerned about the economy, despite some recent positive news on job creation. A government report on Friday lowered the unemployment rate a notch to 7.5 percent, a four-year low that offered hope that the US economy is healthier than many had feared. But Obama wants to remind Americans that he hasn’t forgotten many of them are still struggling.

Among the policies Obama plans to push in Austin and elsewhere in coming weeks are proposals, announced in February in his State of the Union address, to expand prekindergarten programs and raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour. Opponents of those measures in Congress say they are too expensive and could slow the economy.