President Barack Obama put to rest any controversy that might have existed over his not receiving an honorary degree for speaking at the Arizona State University commencement with his typical style and humor. In fact, Obama said that he concurred that a title says little about how a person’s life has been led.
The president first joked about the controversy, “Now, before I begin, I’d like to clear the air about that little controversy everyone was talking about a few weeks back. I have to tell you, I really thought it was much ado about nothing, although I think we all learned an important lesson. I learned to never again pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA bracket. And your university President and Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.”
He also used it as a launching pad for the major point of his address, “In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one’s life has been led – and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”
Obama used the speech to once again call on people to help and serve their country. He also discussed what makes up a body of work, “That is what building a body of work is all about – it’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star – because one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished. It’s cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, and give back, and contribute to the life of this nation. You may have set-backs, and you may have failures, but you’re not done – not by a longshot.”
Barack Obama was in his element. If you had closed your eyes and listened, you might have thought that you were hearing a speech from the 2008 campaign. Obama excels in front of the biggest audiences. His speech was one of the better commencement addresses given by a president in recent memory, but this isn’t much of a surprise, because Obama usually delivers a strong effort anytime he speaks.
What is interesting is how Obama is taking some of themes of his early presidency and exporting them other venues. He didn’t just talk to grads with his address, but he made a point to branch his message out to all Americans. The president appears to be genuinely interested in public service. This is a welcome change after the Bush years when Americans were expected to do and know nothing.