More than 50,000 Rutgers graduates and their families attended U.S. President Barack Obama’s penultimate commencement address as Commander-in-Chief on Sunday.
He provided several tips for students, telling them to keep an open mind, prepare to spend time on achieving their goals, not to get frustrated by setbacks and to take full advantage of the education they received at the University.
“Rutgers has evolved into one of the finest research institutions in America,” he said. “Every day students come to this intellectual melting pot, where ideas come together in what might be America’s most diverse melting pot.”
In between weighing in on fat sandwiches and discussing the school’s place in history, Obama noted the importance of education and information. Access to facts is easier today than at any point in history, he said, and students should take advantage of that.
The Class of 2016 is already better educated than previous generations, Obama said.
While the graduates may have a great amount of potential, they have to participate to achieve it, he said. Diplomacy between people and nations requires more than just a military, and waiting for one particular group to handle matters does not work.
This also applies to voting.
“A huge chunk of Americans, especially young people do not vote. In 2014, 1 in 5 young people voted. And the four who stayed home determine our future as much as the one who didn’t,” he said.
Diplomacy also requires engagement with those people disagree with, he said. He referred to the protests against former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2014, which resulted with her withdrawing herself from consideration as commencement speaker.
Obama said he disagrees with the policies she was a part of, but rather than protesting her presence students should have challenged her to a debate and had her explain her positions.
Overall, America as a nation is better than it was five decades ago, with this class in particular seeing better job prospects than any class since 2007.
The 250th anniversary graduating class can continue these improvements, through creating sustainable energy technologies and helping their fellow humans around the globe.
“America converges here, and in many ways the history of Rutgers mirrors the evolution of America,” he said. “But America’s progress has never been smooth or steady. Progress in America has been hard, and contentious, and sometimes bloody … now for some of you this might sound like your college career.”
This year’s graduating students grew up among great changes in the economy and culture, he said. They are among those who grew up in the wake of terrorist attacks, wars and the great recession.
The Class of 2016 is among the most diverse and accomplished in the nation, said University President Robert L. Barchi in his opening remarks. A quarter of the graduating class is the first in their family to go to college.
Members of the same class are going to five different continents with Fulbright Scholarships, he said. Last year, four different students earned Goldwater Scholarships, the maximum number possible for students to achieve.
Obama closed his remarks by telling students to be ready to dedicate themselves to their goals.
“Gear up for the long haul,” he said. “Change (does not) happen overnight.”
Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.