Speaking at Rutgers University’s graduation ceremony in Piscataway on Sunday, President Obama urged graduates to push for positive change in a rapidly-transforming world.
The pace of that global change is accelerating, not slowing down, and it is up to the next generation to embrace or resist those changes, Obama told the crowd of around 50,000.
“I’m confident that you can make the right choices, away from fear and division and paralysis,” he told the students, “and toward cooperation and innovation and hope.”
Obama took a shot at likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has proposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. “The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day,” said Obama. “Building walls won’t change that.”
Speaking directly to the 17,000 recent graduates, Obama also railed against what he called a strain of anti-intellectualism in American politics, arguing that “facts, evidence, reason, logic, and an understanding of science — these are good things.”
Many students at the graduation ceremony this year were thrilled to have Obama speaking at Rutgers, which is marking its 250th anniversary. This is the first time a sitting president has addressed a Rutgers commencement.
“It was a great platform to encourage students, especially us graduating, to go out and be more proactive in society,” said Anastasia Offordile, who graduated with a Master’s in Public Health.
Rutgers Law graduate Michael Ganoot noted that he, like Obama grew up in Hawaii. “It’s like a little special connection,” said Ganoot, who lived about 15 miles from Honolulu, where Obama was born. “The president being from Hawaii in general was just fantastic because he’s the first one that actually represents our state,” he said.
Despite his optimistic tone, Obama also called out the students on some issues. He said not enough young people vote. “If you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want. And if you opt out or stop paying attention, you won’t. It’s that simple,” he said. He also criticized a group of Rutgers students who two years ago protested the selection of Condoleezza Rice as graduation speaker, forcing her to cancel. “If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions! Hold their feet to the fire.”