COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Putting partisan politics aside for the most part, President Barack Obama on Sunday urged Ohio State University's Class of 2013 to set aside self for the greater good, to reject cynicism, and to not be afraid to make the tough decisions ahead.
"From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will," he told the 8,200 students in robes on the field of Ohio Stadium out of a graduating class of more than 10,000.
He addressed the current gridlock in Washington, urging the graduates to avoid the temptation to retreat into their own lives, leaving the task of governing to others.
"That's how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want," he said, an apparent reference to the recent defeat of a bill subjecting gun purchasers to criminal background checks.
"That's how our political system gets consumed by small things when we are a people called to do great things like rebuild a middle class, reverse the rise of inequality, repair a deteriorating climate that threatens everything we plan to leave for our kids and grandkids," he said. "Class of 2013, only you can ultimately break that cycle."
Mr. Obama, in a black robe, told the class it was graduating into an economy that is "steadily healing."
Although he is delivering other commencement speeches this graduation season, this one brought him full circle. Mr. Obama formally launched his re-election campaign exactly one year ago at nearby Schottenstein Center, counting on the students there to help him carry what was considered a must-win state.
He campaigned on campus four other times over the past 16 months.
While conceding that institutions on Wall Street let the country down, particularly leading into the recent deep recession, he echoed his campaign rhetoric as he strongly defended government as a whole.
"Unfortunately, you grew up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works, or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner," Mr. Obama said. "You should reject these voices, because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can't be trusted.
"We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn't want to," he said. "But we don't think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government."
Mr. Obama's other two commencement speeches this season will be later in May at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Associated Press contributed. Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Jim Provance is a reporter for The Blade.