California Graduates Get Message of Optimism From President Obama

For a year UCI students in Orange County, California have sent everything from letters to videos to optimistic tweets, hoping to get President Obama to visit and give their graduates their commencement message this weekend. The students went on an all-out campaign, mailing ten thousand letters and videos to the White House. As Obama took to the podium, he said: “I’m here for a simple reason. You asked.”

Students, faculty and alumni created a barrage of tweets with the #POTUS2UCI hashtag, all in an attempt to woo Obama to their 50 year anniversary all-school ceremony. UCI’s basketball center, Mamadou Ndiaye, who hails from Senegal and stands seven-and-a-half feet tall, filmed a recorded invitation to the President. When he asked Obama to speak at the ceremony, he concluded the footage with a challenge: “Mr. President, we should play ball together.”

Not only did the California crowd put on pressure, Obama’s own assistant, Ferial Govashiri, is a UCI alumna and had a brother graduating this weekend. As Obama said, referring to the school’s Anteater fight song, “I did not understand why she greets me each morning, shouting ‘Zot, Zot, Zot!'” He does now that he has visited the campus. Obama spoke for 25 minutes and received three standing ovations. If the crowd response was any indication, UCI’s efforts to lead the president to California were worth it.

In 1964, University of California at Irvine (UCI) was honored to have then-President Johnson deliver their dedication. Johnson arrived at UCI the day after his “Great Society” civil rights legislation was voted in by the Senate. His message to the 12 thousand to came to hear him speak was to request that they “throw off their doubts about America.” He asked the students and faculty to “demonstrate that people of compassion and commitment can free others from the chains of injustice, poverty and ignorance.” By comparison, today the university is the second biggest job-creator in Orange County. Because President Johnson began UCI’s 50 year journey, the powers-that-be at the university decided that it would honor the university’s roots to have a sitting president at this milestone anniversary.

On Saturday, under the warm California sun, President Obama delivered his message to a diverse crowd of more than 30 thousand people, including the parents, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students that filled Anaheim Stadium. According to a UCI press release, “Fifty percent of Obama’s student audiences at the graduation were first-generation university graduates.” He encouraged them “to focus on their dreams and retain a spirit of optimism when dealing with future problems” and told them “they could make a difference – the sooner, the better.”

He assured the crowd that the nation is better now than when most of the undergrads left high school saying, “More Americans are graduating from college, we have fewer Americans at war and more health insurance.” President Obama culminated his message of optimism by reiterating his excitement for the graduates and their generation: “You’ll experience doubt but cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better one.”

By Jenny Hansen

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