Today’s message is especially dedicated to the Class of 2010.

One of the things I love doing is hearing commencement speeches. Here is President Barack Obama’s message for this year’s graduates…

Congratulations. Since I couldn’t be at every high school and college commencement this year, I wanted to send a message to all of the graduates in this country who are about to embark on the next chapter of your young and promising lives.

There are generations of Americans who came of age during periods of peace and prosperity. When they graduated from high school or college, they entered a world of comfort and stability where little was required of them beyond their obligations to themselves an their families.

That is not the world you are about to inherit. You are growing up in a time of great challenge and sweeping change. You will search for jobs in an economy that is still emerging from one of the worst recessions in history. You will seek a profession in an era where a high school diploma and a factory job are no longer sure paths to success. And you will raise your children in a world where threats like terrorism and a changing climate cannot be contained within a country’s borders.

At times like these, when the future seems unsettled and uncertain, it can be easy to lose heart. When you turn on the television or read newspapers or blogs, the voices of cynicism and pessimism always seem to be the loudest.

Don’t believe them.

Yes, we are facing difficult times. But America has been through them before. In the 1930s, young men and women saw one-third of the nation ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed, and later witnessed tyranny sweep across Europe and the Pacific. In the 1960s, millions of students participated in peaceful protests – against those who sought to keep them divided by race, against a war they believed unjust – and were met with billy clubs and fire hoses.

So many times in so many eras, Americans your age could have decided to just go about their own business, fend for themselves, and leave our country’s problems for somebody else to solve.

But they didn’t

You are graduating today in part because those who came before you had the courage to look past their differences, face down their common difficulties, and perfect their union. It was young soldiers who pushed forward at Lexington and at Gettysburg, at Normandy and at Kandahar. It was graduates like you who looked across a continent and built the railroads, highways, schools, and universities that have fueled the most prosperous economy in the world. It was a 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence; a 33-year-old Elizabeth Cady Stanton who organized the Seneca Falls Convention, the first national women’s rights convention; a 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. who began his journey to the mountaintop; and a 20-year-old Bill Gates who started one of the most transformative companies on Earth

All of these Americans faced long odds. All of them faced doubt. Many grew up in times of discord and difficulty. Yet they knew that while America’s destiny is never certain, our ability to shape it always is. Ours is a history of renewal and reinvention, where each generation finds a way to adapt, thrive, and push the nation forward with energy, ingenuity, and optimism.

That is your charge as graduates – our future is in your hands. The United States is still a land of infinite possibilities waiting to be seized, if you are willing to seize them.

While government plays a role in making a more prosperous and secure future possible for America, the final outcome ultimately depends on you and the choices you make from here on out.

Of course, each of you has the right to take your diploma and seek the quickest path to the biggest paycheck or the highest title possible. But remember: You can choose to broaden your concerns to include your fellow citizens and country instead. By tying your ambitions to America’s, you’ll hitch your wagon to a cause larger than yourself. You can choose a career in public service or the nonprofit sector, or teach in an underserved school. If you have medical training, you can work in an understaffed clinic. Love science? You can discover new sources of clean energy or launch a business that makes the most efficient and affordable solar panels or wind turbines.

Or you may decide to make your mark in ways that may be smaller but are just as important – volunteering at a local shelter, tutoring or mentoring schoolkids, staying involved in the local and national debates that shape our lives and the life of our country, or raising your own children to be generous and productive Americans.

No matter what you choose to do, know that you have the ability – each one of you – to write the next chapter in America’s story. Starting your careers in troubled times is a challenge, but it’s also a privilege. When I left for Chicago after college to be a community organizer, I, like many of you, had no idea what the future would hold for me. What I did know was that somehow, in some way, I wanted to make an impact on the world around me.

It’s times like the one you’re facing today that force us to try harder and dig deeper. Times like these move us to fin the greatness we each have inside and, in doing so, rediscover the greatness that defines us as a nation. These are the tasks lying before you, and I have no doubt all of you are up to the challenge.


Some of the greatest leaders in history have spoken great words. President Obama joined that list yesterday in Washington, DC. Below are words from another great in history…

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Thanks for reading.


Every time our nation faces crisis, our national experience has shown Americans rise to the challenge. While government has an important role to play in helping rekindle our economy and addressing the problems of a distressed nation, President-elect Obama believes each of us, as Americans, have a responsibility to do what we can for our communities and fellow citizens. We are one nation.

The United States is once again at a crossroads and that is why the President-elect hopes to use the occasion of his Inauguration to rally our nation to commit to service in our communities. We are asking for your participation in meeting this challenge. In 1994, Congress transformed the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday into a national day of community service to further commemorate a man who lived his life in service to others. As a tribute to that legacy and the very real needs of our nation, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have launched a national organizing effort on the eve of their Inauguration to engage Americans in service. This national day of service will fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 19, 2009 and, unlike past calls to service, President-elect Obama is calling on all Americans to do more than just offer a single day of service to their cities, towns and neighborhoods. He is asking all of us to make an ongoing commitment to our communities. Never has it been more important to come together in shared purpose to tackle the common challenges we face.

This website ( is designed to help promote these events and for Americans to make their commitments, build communities, find opportunities to serve and share their results. These can be events that engage people in direct service, or bring people together to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and how they can commit to becoming more engaged citizens. Please create an event or sign up to volunteer today.