Discuss as:

Obama calls for 'citizenship' in Ohio State commencement speech focused on civic duty

President Barack Obama speaks to the class of 2013 at The Ohio State University Sunday.

Tens of thousands of spectators swarmed Ohio State University on Sunday afternoon to see President Barack Obama deliver his first commencement address of 2013 — exactly one year to the day after he kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally on the same campus.


Between 60,000 to 70,000 parents and friends snaked through long security lines and piled into Ohio Stadium to secure seats at the ceremony, at which some 10,000 Buckeyes — including 130 veterans — were expected to receive diplomas.

In his address, Obama called on graduates who grew up in years blotted by economic tumult, terrorism and war to commit to citizenship and public service.

"You have been tested and tempered by events that your parents and I never imagined we’d see when we sat where you sit,” Obama 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 said responses to recent national tragedies — including the Boston marathon bombings, the Texas fertilizer explosion, and the Newtown school, Aurora theater and Oak Creek temple shootings — offer examples of “courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty, and a recognition that we are not a collection of strangers.”

"That’s what citizenship is," Obama said.

And in his own gesture of bipartisanship, Obama quoted a line from President George W. Bush’s address to OSU seniors in 2002, saying, "American needs more than taxpayers, spectators, and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens."

Obama urged the large crowd to "reject" cynicism about government in an age of legislative gridlock and political divisiveness.

"We have never been a people who place all our faith in government so solve our problems, nor do we want it to. But we don’t think the government is to the source of all our problems, either,” Obama said. “As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us.”

Obama challenged graduates to tackle key issues — such education reform, infrastructure investment, climate change, LGBT rights, and gun violence — with "dogged determination."

“I dare you to do better. I dare you to be better,” Obama said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Obama was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. As he accepted the prize, Obama donned an OSU baseball cap to loud cheers from the audience.

Security measures were heightened around the 1,764-acre campus, which is roughly 2.5 miles north of downtown Columbus, Ohio. Spectators passed through metal detectors as they filed into the arena Sunday morning while Secret Service agents and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers scanned the crowd, according to The Associated Press.

President Obama’s address at Ohio State University is the first of three he plans to deliver this graduation season. Obama is slated to speak at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., on May 19 and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on May 24.

Obama — who has visited the Ohio State University campus five times in the last 16 months—  is the third sitting president to deliver a commencement address at Ohio State University, after President Gerald Ford in August 1974 and President George W. Bush in June 2002. 

Ohio was key to the President’s re-election strategy: Obama made frequent campaign stops in the Buckeye State during the 2012 general election, including a high-profile rally at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena featuring Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z. Obama’s victory in Ohio last November helped him clinch the electoral college and secure a second-term.

Jason Reed / Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama waves alongside Ohio State University President Gordon Gee (R) during the school's spring commencement ceremony in Columbus, Ohio, May 5, 2013. Obama will receive an honorary doctorate degree from the university.