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  • The President: Hello Rutgers!

  • (applause)

  • R-U rah-rah!

  • (applause)

  • Thank you so much.

  • Thank you.

  • Everybody, please have a seat.

  • Thank you, President Barchi, for that introduction.

  • Let me congratulate my extraordinarily worthy

  • fellow honorary Scarlet Knights, Dr. Burnell

  • and Bill Moyers.

  • Matthew, good job.

  • (applause)

  • If you are interested, we can talk after this.

  • (applause)

  • One of the perks of my job is honorary degrees.

  • (laughter)

  • But I have to tell you, it impresses nobody in my house.

  • (laughter)

  • Now Malia and Sasha just say, "Okay, Dr. Dad, we'll

  • see you later.

  • Can we have some money?"

  • (laughter)

  • To the Board of Governors; to Chairman Brown; to

  • Lieutenant Governor Guadagno; Mayor Cahill;

  • Mayor Wahler, members of Congress, Rutgers

  • administrators, faculty, staff, friends, and family

  • -- thank you for the honor of joining you for the 250th

  • anniversary of this remarkable institution.

  • (applause)

  • But most of all, congratulations

  • to the Class of 2016!

  • (applause)

  • I come here for a simple reason -- to finally settle

  • this pork roll vs.

  • Taylor ham question.

  • (laughter and applause)

  • I'm just kidding.

  • (laughter)

  • There's not much I'm afraid to take on in my final year

  • of office, but I know better than to get in the middle

  • of that debate.

  • (laughter)

  • The truth is, Rutgers, I came here because you asked.

  • (applause)

  • Now, it's true that a lot of schools invite me to their

  • commencement every year.

  • But you are the first to launch a three-year campaign.

  • (laughter)

  • Emails, letters, tweets, YouTube videos.

  • I even got three notes from the grandmother of your

  • student body president.

  • (laughter)

  • And I have to say that really sealed the deal.

  • That was smart, because I have a soft spot for grandmas.

  • (laughter)

  • So I'm here, off Exit 9, on the banks of the Old Raritan --

  • (applause)

  • -- at the site of one of the original

  • nine colonial colleges.

  • (applause)

  • Winners of the first-ever college football game.

  • (applause)

  • One of the newest members of the Big Ten.

  • (applause)

  • Home of what I understand to be a Grease Truck

  • for a Fat Sandwich.

  • (applause)

  • Mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers

  • on your cheesesteaks --

  • (applause)

  • I'm sure Michelle would approve.

  • (laughter)

  • But somehow, you have survived

  • such death-defying acts.

  • (laughter)

  • You also survived the daily jockeying for buses, from

  • Livingston to Busch, to Cook, to Douglass,

  • and back again.

  • (applause)

  • I suspect that a few of you are trying to survive this

  • afternoon, after a late night at Olde Queens.

  • (applause)

  • You know who you are.

  • (laughter)

  • But, however you got here, you made it.

  • You made it.

  • Today, you join a long line of Scarlet Knights whose

  • energy and intellect have lifted this university to

  • heights its founders could not have imagined.

  • Two hundred and fifty years ago, when America was still

  • just an idea, a charter from the Royal Governor -- Ben

  • Franklin's son -- established Queen's College.

  • A few years later, a handful of students gathered in a

  • converted tavern for the first class.

  • And from that first class in a pub, Rutgers has evolved

  • into one of the finest research institutions

  • in America.

  • (applause)

  • This is a place where you 3D-print prosthetic hands

  • for children, and devise rooftop wind arrays that can

  • power entire office buildings with clean,

  • renewable energy.

  • Every day, tens of thousands of students come here, to

  • this intellectual melting pot, where ideas and

  • cultures flow together among what might just be America's

  • most diverse student body.

  • (applause)

  • Here in New Brunswick, you can debate philosophy with a

  • classmate from South Asia in one class, and then strike

  • up a conversation on the EE Bus with a first-generation

  • Latina student from Jersey City, before sitting down

  • for your psych group project with a veteran who's going

  • to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

  • (applause)

  • America converges here.

  • And in so many ways, the history of Rutgers mirrors

  • the evolution of America -- the course by which we

  • became bigger, stronger, and richer and more dynamic, and

  • a more inclusive nation.

  • But America's progress has never been smooth or steady.

  • Progress doesn't travel in a straight line.

  • It zigs and zags in fits and starts.

  • Progress in America has been hard and contentious, and

  • sometimes bloody.

  • It remains uneven and at times, for every two steps

  • forward, it feels like we take one step back.

  • Now, for some of you, this may sound

  • like your college career.

  • (laughter)

  • It sounds like mine, anyway.

  • (laughter)

  • Which makes sense, because measured against the whole

  • of human history, America remains a very young nation

  • -- younger, even, than this university.

  • But progress is bumpy.

  • It always has been.

  • But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and

  • activists, progress has been this nation's hallmark.

  • I'm fond of quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

  • who said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but

  • it bends towards justice."

  • (applause)

  • It bends towards justice.

  • I believe that.

  • But I also believe that the arc of our nation, the arc

  • of the world does not bend towards justice, or freedom,

  • or equality, or prosperity on its own.

  • It depends on us, on the choices we make,

  • particularly at certain inflection points in

  • history; particularly when big changes are happening

  • and everything seems up for grabs.

  • And, Class of 2016, you are graduating at such an

  • inflection point.

  • Since the start of this new millennium, you've already

  • witnessed horrific terrorist attacks, and war,

  • and a Great Recession.

  • You've seen economic and technological and cultural

  • shifts that are profoundly altering how we work and how

  • we communicate, how we live, how we form families.

  • The pace of change is not subsiding;

  • it is accelerating.

  • And these changes offer not only great opportunity, but

  • also great peril.

  • Fortunately, your generation has everything it takes to

  • lead this country toward a brighter future.

  • I'm confident that you can make the right choices --

  • away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward

  • cooperation and innovation and hope.

  • (applause)

  • Now, partly, I'm confident because, on average, you're

  • smarter and better educated than my generation --

  • although we probably had better penmanship --

  • (laughter)

  • -- and were certainly better spellers.

  • We did not have spell-check back in my day.

  • You're not only better educated, you've been more

  • exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures.

  • You're more diverse.

  • You're more environmentally conscious.

  • You have a healthy skepticism

  • for conventional wisdom.

  • So you've got the tools to lead us.

  • And precisely because I have so much confidence in you,

  • I'm not going to spend the remainder of my time telling

  • you exactly how you're going to make the world better.

  • You'll figure it out.

  • You'll look at things with fresher eyes, unencumbered

  • by the biases and blind spots and inertia and

  • general crankiness of your parents and grandparents and

  • old heads like me.

  • But I do have a couple of suggestions that you may

  • find useful as you go out there and conquer the world.

  • Point number one: When you hear someone longing for the

  • "good old days," take it with a grain of salt.

  • (laughter and applause)

  • Take it with a grain of salt.

  • We live in a great nation and we are rightly

  • proud of our history.

  • We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the

  • courage of generations who came before.

  • But I guess it's part of human nature, especially in

  • times of change and uncertainty, to want to look

  • backwards and long for some imaginary past when

  • everything worked, and the economy hummed, and all

  • politicians were wise, and every kid was well-mannered,

  • and America pretty much did whatever it wanted

  • around the world.

  • Guess what.

  • It ain't so.

  • (laughter)

  • The "good old days" weren't that great.

  • Yes, there have been some stretches in our history

  • where the economy grew much faster, or when government

  • ran more smoothly.

  • There were moments when, immediately after World War

  • II, for example, or the end of the Cold War, when the

  • world bent more easily to our will.

  • But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes.

  • In fact, by almost every measure, America is better,

  • and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or

  • 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.

  • (applause)

  • And by the way, I'm not -- set aside 150 years ago,

  • pre-Civil War -- there's a whole bunch of stuff there

  • we could talk about.

  • Set aside life in the '50s, when women and people of

  • color were systematically excluded from big chunks

  • of American life.

  • Since I graduated, in 1983 -- which isn't that long ago --

  • (laughter)

  • -- I'm just saying.

  • Since I graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy,

  • the share of Americans living in poverty

  • -- they're all down.

  • The share of Americans with college educations

  • have gone way up.

  • Our life expectancy has, as well.

  • Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks in

  • business and politics.

  • (applause)

  • More women are in the workforce.

  • (applause)

  • They're earning more money -- although it's long past

  • time that we passed laws to make sure that women are

  • getting the same pay for the same work as men.

  • (applause)

  • Meanwhile, in the eight years since most of you

  • started high school, we're also better off.

  • You and your fellow graduates are entering the

  • job market with better prospects than

  • any time since 2007.

  • Twenty million more Americans know the financial

  • security of health insurance.

  • We're less dependent on foreign oil.

  • We've doubled the production of clean energy.

  • We have cut the high school dropout rate.

  • We've cut the deficit by two-thirds.

  • Marriage equality is the law of the land.

  • (applause)

  • And just as America is better, the world is better

  • than when I graduated.

  • Since I graduated, an Iron Curtain fell,