Skip to main content

President Obama addresses graduates

May 14, 2009

Says core mission of ASU matches that of his presidency

At what may have been the largest U.S. graduation in history, President Barack Obama told graduates at Arizona State University that opening the doors of higher education to students from every background is a core mission of ASU and of his presidency, and should serve as a model for universities across the country.

Six high school seniors who are among the first recipients of ASU’s President Barack Obama Scholars program got to meet the charismatic president and be introduced on stage. The scholarship, an expansion of the university’s key financial aid program which will benefit 1,600 freshmen next fall, offers up to $17,000 annually to help students pay for tuition, room and board.

“What a wonderful gift, to open the doors of education for students of every background,” Obama told a crowd of 71,000 people in Sun Devil Stadium at ASU.

“With a degree from this outstanding institution, you have everything you need to get started. You have no excuses not to change the world. You can help our struggling non-profits. . . teach in a high-need school . . .help us lead a green revolution, developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.”

For the last six years, ASU has served as America’s largest effort at institutional transformation in higher education, building a solution-focused institution that combines the highest level of academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic and maximum societal impact.

Since 2000 ASU has increased its enrollment by 17,000 students while enhancing student quality each year, as a response to the growing number of Arizona high school graduates academically qualified to attend college.

ASU also is home to the nation’s first School of Sustainability and the Biodesign Institute, both of which focus on huge global challenges and which prepare students for essential future careers. The graduating class includes 13 students who are the first to graduate with degrees in sustainability.

"As a nation, it is clear that we need to build a new foundation – a stronger foundation – for our economy and our prosperity, rethinking how we grow our economy, how we use energy, how we educate our children, how we care for our sick, how we treat our environment," said Obama.

“Many of our current challenges are unprecedented. There are no standard remedies, or go-to fixes this time around. That is why we are going to need your help.”

He told the graduating class of 9,267 that starting their careers in troubled times is a challenge, but also a privilege, because they are forced to dig deeper and discover gifts they never knew they had.
“At this difficult time in our national history, the old approaches won’t get you where you want to go. The leaders we revere, and the businesses and institutions that last, are the result of devotion to some bigger purpose. A commitment to make sure that an institution like ASU is inclusive and diverse and gives opportunity to all, that's a hallmark of real success.

President Obama’s emphasis on building the next generation of leaders in science, technology and sustainability, as well as the arts, mirrors ASU’s mission as a New American University, said ASU President Michael M.Crow, who invited Obama to be the university’s first graduation speaker in many years.

“President Obama’s priority on education and his stand on building a green economy as the solution to our economic crisis is a perfect fit for ASU’s mission and aspirations,” said Crow. “He has a deep understanding of the need to drive change, and of the role of knowledge in advancing the American ideal. He gives hope to all who dream.”