President Obama Speaks at UC-Irvine Commencement Ceremony


(applause) The President: Hello,
Anteaters! (applause) That is something I
never thought I’d say. (laughter) Please,
please take a seat. To President Napolitano —
which is a nice step up from Secretary; to Fred
Ruiz, Vice Chair of the University of California
Regents; Chancellor Drake; Representatives Loretta
Sanchez and Alan Lowenthal; to the
trustees and faculty — thank you for this honor. And congratulations
to the Class of 2014! (applause) Now, let me begin my
saying all of you had the inside track
in getting me here — because my personal assistant,
Ferial, is a proud Anteater. (applause) Until today, I
did not understand why she greets me every morning
by shouting “Zot, Zot, Zot!” (laughter) It’s
been a little weird. But she explained it to
me on the way here this morning, because she’s
very proud to see her brother, Sina,
graduate today as well. (applause) So, graduates,
obviously we’re proud of you, but let’s give it up
for your proud family and friends and professors,
because this is their day, too. (applause) And even though he’s on
the road this weekend, I also want to thank Angels
centerfielder Mike Trout for letting me cover
his turf for a while. (applause) He actually
signed a bat for me, which is part of
my retirement plan. (laughter) I will
be keeping that. And this is a very
cool place to hold a commencement. I know that UC Irvine’s
baseball team opens College World Series play in
Omaha right about now — (applause) — so let’s
get this speech underway. If the hot dog guy
comes by, get me one. (laughter) Now, in additional to
Ferial, graduates, I’m here for a simple
reason: You asked. For those who don’t know,
the UC Irvine community sent 10,000 postcards to
the White House asking me to come speak today. (applause) Some tried to
guilt me into coming. I got one that said,
“I went to your first inauguration, can you
please come to my graduation?” (applause) Some tried bribery: “I’ll
support the Chicago Bulls.” Another said today would
be your birthday — so happy birthday,
whoever you are. My personal favorite —
somebody wrote and said, “We are super underrated!” (laughter) I’m sure she
was talking about this school. But keep in mind, you’re
not only the number-one university in America
younger than 50 years old, you also hold the Guinness
World Record for biggest water pistol fight. (applause) You’re pretty
excited about that. (laughter) “We are super underrated.” This young lady could have
just as well been talking, though, about
this generation. I think this generation
of young people is super underrated. In your young lives,
you’ve seen dizzying change, from terror
attacks to economic turmoil; from
Twitter to Tumblr. Some of your families have
known tough times during the course of the worst
economic crisis since the Great Depression. You’re graduating into a
still-healing job market, and some of you are
carrying student loan debt that you’re
concerned about. And yet, your generation
— the most educated, the most diverse, the most
tolerant, the most politically independent
and the most digitally fluent in our history —
is also on record as being the most optimistic
about our future. And I’m here to tell you
that you are right to be optimistic. (applause) You are
right to be optimistic. Consider this: Since the
time most of you graduated from high school, fewer
Americans are at war. More have health
insurance. More are graduating
from college. Our businesses have added
more than 9 million new jobs. The number of states where
you’re free to marry who you love has more
than doubled. (applause) And that’s just
some of the progress that you’ve seen while you’ve
been studying here at UC Irvine. But we do face real
challenges: Rebuilding the middle class and
reversing inequality’s rise. Reining in college costs. Protecting voting rights. Welcoming the immigrants
and young dreamers who keep this country vibrant. Stemming the tide of
violence that guns inflict on our schools. We’ve got some
big challenges. And if you’re fed a steady
diet of cynicism that says nobody is trustworthy
and nothing works, and there’s no way we can
actually address these problems, then the temptation is too
just go it alone, to look after yourself and not
participate in the larger project of achieving our
best vision of America. And I’m here to tell
you, don’t believe the cynicism. Guard against it. Don’t buy into it. Today, I want to use one
case study to show you that progress is
possible and perseverance is critical. I want to show you how
badly we need you — both your individual voices and
your collective efforts — to give you the chance you
seek to change the world, and maybe even save it. I’m going to talk
about one of the most significant long-term
challenges that our country and our planet
faces: the growing threat of a rapidly
changing climate. Now, this isn’t
a policy speech. I understand it’s a
commencement, and I already delivered a long
climate address last summer. I remember because it was
95 degrees and my staff had me do it
outside, and I was pouring with sweat — as a visual aid. (laughter) And since this
is a very educated group, you already know
the science. Burning fossil fuels
release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat. Levels of carbon dioxide
in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve
been in 800,000 years. We know the trends. The 18 warmest years on
record have all happened since you graduates
were born. We know what we see
with our own eyes. Out West, firefighters
brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states
have to budget for that. Mountain towns worry about
what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism. Farmers and families at
the bottom worry about what it will mean
for their water. In cities like Norfolk and
Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide. Shrinking icecaps have
National Geographic making the biggest change in its
atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. So the question is not
whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment
of science, accumulated and measured and
reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether
we have the will to act before it’s too late. For if we fail to protect
the world we leave not just to my children, but
to your children and your children’s children, we
will fail one of our primary reasons for
being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the
world a little bit better for the next generation. Now, the good is you
already know all this. UCIrvine set up the first
Earth System Science Department in America. applause) A UC
Irvine professor-student team won the Nobel Prize
for discovering that CFCs destroy the ozone layer. (applause) A UC Irvine
glaciologist’s work led to one of last month’s
report showing one of the world’s major ice
sheets in irreversible retreat. Students and professors
are in the field working to predict changing
weather patterns, fire seasons, and water tables
— working to understand how shifting seasons
affect global ecosystems; to get zero-emission
vehicles on the road faster; to help
coastal communities adapt to rising seas. And when I challenge
colleges to reduce their energy use to 20 percent
by 2020, UC Irvine went ahead and did
it last year. Done. (applause) So UC Irvine
is ahead of the curve. All of you are
ahead of the curve. Your generation reminds
me of something President Wilson once said. He said, “Sometimes people
call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I
know I am an American.” That’s who we are. And if you need a reason
to be optimistic about our future, then look
around this stadium. Because today, in America,
the largest single age group is 22 years ago. And you are going
to do great things. And I want you to know
that I’ve got your back — because one of the reasons
I ran for this office was because I believed our
dangerous addiction to foreign oil left our
economy at risk and our planet in peril. So when I took office, we
set out to use more clean energy and less dirty
energy, and waste less energy overall. And since then, we’ve
doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon
of gas by the middle of the next decade. We’ve tripled the
electricity we harness from the wind, generating
enough last year to power every home in California. We’ve multiplied the
electricity we generate from the sun
10 times over. And this state,
California, is so far ahead of the rest of
the country in solar, that earlier this year solar
power met 18 percent of your total power
demand one day. (applause) The bottom line is,
America produces more renewable energy than
ever, more natural gas than anyone. And for the first time in
nearly two decades, we produce more oil here at
home than we buy from other countries. And these advances have
created jobs and grown our economy, and
helped cut our carbon pollution to levels not seen
in about 20 years. Since 2006, no country
on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution
by as much as the United States of America. (applause) So that’s all
reason for optimism. Here’s the challenge:
We’ve got to do more. What we’re doing
is not enough. And that’s why, a couple
weeks ago, America proposed new standards
to limit the amount of harmful carbon pollution
that power plants can dump into the air. And we also have to
realize, as hundreds of scientists declared last
month, that climate change is no longer a distant
threat, but “has moved firmly into the present.” That’s a quote. In some parts of the
country, weather-related disasters like droughts,
and fires, and storms, and floods are going to get
harsher and they’re going to get costlier. And that’s why, today,
I’m announcing a new $1 billion competitive
fund to help communities prepare for the impacts of
climate change and build more resilient
infrastructure across the country. (applause) So it’s a big problem. But progress, no matter how big the problem, is possible. That’s important
to remember. Because no matter what you
do in life, you’re going to run up against
big problems — in your own personal life and in
your communities and in your country. There’s going to be a
stubborn status quo, and there are going to be
people determined to stymie your efforts to
bring about change. There are going to be
people who say you can’t do something. There are going to be
people who say you shouldn’t bother. I’ve got some experience
in this myself. (laughter) Now, part of what’s unique
about climate change, though, is the nature of
some of the opposition to action. It’s pretty rare that
you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem
you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set
us on a course for the moon, there were a
number of people who made a serious case that it
wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too
expensive, it was going to be too hard, it
would take too long. But nobody ignored
the science. I don’t remember anybody
saying that the moon wasn’t there or that
it was made of cheese. (laughter) And today’s Congress,
though, is full of folks who stubbornly and
automatically reject the scientific evidence
about climate change. They will tell you it
is a hoax, or a fad. One member of Congress
actually says the world is cooling. There was one member of
Congress who mentioned a theory involving “dinosaur
flatulence” — which I won’t get into. (laughter) Now, their view may be
wrong — and a fairly serious threat to
everybody’s future — but at least they have the
brass to say what they actually think. There are some who also
duck the question. They say — when they’re
asked about climate change, they say,
“Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.” And I’ll translate
that for you. What that really means
is, “I know that manmade climate change really is
happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run
out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate
science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going
to admit it.” (applause) Now, I’m not a scientist
either, but we’ve got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the
overwhelming majority of scientists who work on
climate change, including some who once disputed
the data, have put that debate to rest. The writer, Thomas Friedman, recently put it to me this way. He were talking, and he
says, “Your kid is sick, you consult 100 doctors;
97 of them tell you to do this, three tell (you)
to do that, and you want to go with the three?” The fact is, this should
not be a partisan issue. After all, it was
Republicans who used to lead the way on new
ideas to protect our environment. It was Teddy Roosevelt
who first pushed for our magnificent
national parks. It was Richard Nixon who
signed the Clean Air Act and opened the EPA. George H.W. Bush — a wonderful man
who at 90 just jumped out of a plane in a parachute
— (laughter) — said that “human activities are
changing the atmosphere in unexpected and
unprecedented ways.” John McCain and other
Republicans publicly supported free
market-based cap-and-trade bills to slow carbon
pollution just a few years ago — before the Tea
Party decided it was a massive threat to
freedom and liberty. These days, unfortunately,
nothing is happening. Even minor energy
efficiency bills are killed on the
Senate floor. And the reason is because
people are thinking about politics instead of
thinking about what’s good for the next generation. What’s the point of public
office if you’re not going to use your power to
help solve problems? (applause) And part of the challenge
is that the media doesn’t spend a lot of time
covering climate change and letting average
Americans know how it could impact our future. Now, the broadcast
networks’ nightly newscasts spend just a few
minutes a month covering climate issues. On cable, the debate is
usually between political pundits, not scientists. When we introduced those
new anti-pollution standards a couple weeks
ago, the instant reaction from the Washington’s
political press wasn’t about what it would mean
for our planet; it was what would it mean for an
election six months from now. And that kind of
misses the point. Of course, they’re not
scientists, either. And I want to tell you all
this not to discourage you. I’m telling you all this
because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting
shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all
of you to understand you cannot accept that this
is the way it has to be. The climate change deniers
suggest there’s still a debate over the science. There is not. The talking heads on
cable news suggest public opinion is hopelessly
deadlocked. It is not. Seven in ten Americans
say global warming is a serious problem. Seven in ten say the
federal government should limit pollution from
our power plants. And of all the issues
in a recent poll asking Americans where we think
we can make a difference, protecting the environment
came out on top. (applause) So we’ve got public
opinion potentially on our side. We can do this. We can make a difference. You can make a difference. And the sooner you do, the
better — not just for our climate, but
for our economy. There’s a reason that more
than 700 businesses like Apple and Microsoft,
and GM and Nike, Intel, Starbucks have declared
that “tackling climate change is one of America’s
greatest economic opportunities in
the 21st century.” The country that seizes
this opportunity first will lead the way. A low-carbon, clean energy
economy can be an engine for growth and jobs
for decades to come, and I want America to
build that engine. Because if we do,
others will follow. I want those jobs; I want
those opportunities; I want those businesses
right here in the United States of America. (applause) Developing countries
are using more and more energy, and tens of
millions of people are entering the global middle
class, and they want to buy cars and
refrigerators. So if we don’t deal with
this problem soon, we’re going to be overwhelmed. These nations have some of
the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution. They’re going to have to
take action to meet this challenge. They’re more vulnerable
to the effects of climate change than we are. They’ve got even
more to lose. But they’re waiting to
see what does America do. That’s what
the world does. It waits to watch us act. And when we do, they move. And I’m convinced that on
this issue, when America proves what’s
possible, then they’re going to join us. And America cannot meet
this threat alone. Of course, the world
cannot meet it without America. This is a fight that
America must lead. So I’m going to keep doing
my part for as long as I hold this office and as
long as I’m a citizen once out of office. But we’re going to need
you, the next generation, to finish the job. We need scientists
to design new fuels. We need farmers
to help grow them. We need engineers to
invent new technologies. We need entrepreneurs to
sell those technologies. (applause) We need workers
to operate assembly lines that hum with high-tech,
zero-carbon components. We need builders to hammer
into place the foundations for a clean energy age. We need diplomats and
businessmen and women, and Peace Corps volunteers to
help developing nations skip past the dirty
phase of development and transition to sustainable
sources of energy. In other words,
we need you. (applause) We need you. And if you believe, like I
do, that something has to be done on this, then
you’re going to have to speak out. You’re going to have to
learn more about these issues. Even if you’re not like
Jessica and an expert, you’re going to have
to work on this. You’re going to have
to push those of us in power to do what this
American moment demands. You’ve got to educate
your classmates, and colleagues, and family
members and fellow citizens, and tell
them what’s at stake. You’ve got to push
back against the misinformation, and
speak out for facts, and organize others around
your vision for the future. You need to invest in what
helps, and divest from what harms. And you’ve got to remind
everyone who represents you, at every level of
government, that doing something about
climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. It’s no accident that when
President Kennedy needed to convince the nation
that sending Americans into space was a worthy
goal, he went to a university. That’s where he started. Because a challenge as
big as that, as costly as that, as difficult as
that, requires a spirit of youth. It requires a spirit of
adventure; a willingness to take risks. It requires optimism. It requires hope. That day, a man told us
we’d go to the moon within a decade. And despite all the
naysayers, somehow we knew as a nation that we’d
build a spaceship and we’d meet that goal. That’s because we’re
Americans — and that’s what we do. Even when our political
system is consumed by small things, we are a
people called to do big things. And progress on climate
change is a big thing. Progress won’t always
be flashy; it will be measured in disasters
averted, and lives saved, and a planet preserved —
and days just like this one, 20 years from
now, and 50 years from now, and 100 years from now. But can you imagine a more
worthy goal — a more worthy legacy — than
protecting the world we leave to our children? So I ask your generation
to help leave us that legacy. I ask you to believe in
yourselves and in one another, and above
all, when life gets you down or somebody tells you you
can’t do something, to believe in
something better. There are people here who
know what it means to dream. When Mohamad Abedi was a
boy, the suffering he saw in refugee camps in
Lebanon didn’t drive him into despair — it
inspired him to become a doctor. And when he came to
America, he discovered a passion for engineering. So here, at UC Irvine,
he became a biomedical engineer to study
the human brain. (applause) And Mohamad
said, “Had I never come to the United States, I would
have never had the ability to do the work
that I’m doing.” He’s now going to CalTech
to keep doing that work. Cinthia Flores is the
daughter of a single mom who worked as a
seamstress and a housekeeper. (applause) The first in
her family to graduate from high school. The first in her family
to graduate from college. And in college, she says,
“I learned about myself that I was good at
advocating for others, and that I was argumentative
— so maybe I should go to law school.” And, today, Cinthia is now
the first in her family to graduate from law school. And she plans to advocate
for the rights of workers like her mom. (applause) She says, “I
have the great privilege and opportunity to answer
the call of my community.” “The bottom line,” she
says, “is being of service.” On 9/11, Aaron Anderson was a sophomore in college. Several months later, he
was in training for Army Special Forces. He fought in Afghanistan,
and on February 28th, 2006, he was nearly
killed by an IED. He endured dozens of
surgeries to save his legs, months of
recovery at Walter Reed. When he couldn’t
physically return to active duty, he devoted
his time to his brothers in arms,
starting two businesses with fellow veterans, and a
foundation to help fellow wounded Green Beret soldiers. And then he went
back to school. And last December, he
graduated summa cum laude from UC Irvine. And Aaron is here today,
along with four soon-to-be commissioned ROTC cadets, and 65 other graduating veterans. And I would ask them to
stand and be recognized for their service. (applause) The point is, you
know how to dream. And you know how to
work for your dreams. And, yes, sometimes you
may be “super underrated.” But you know, usually it’s the
underrated, the underdogs, the dreamers, the
idealists, the fighters, the argumentative
— those are the folks who do the biggest things. And this generation —
this 9/11 generation of soldiers; this new
generation of scientists and advocates and
entrepreneurs and altruists — you’re the
antidote to cynicism. It doesn’t mean you’re
not going to get down sometimes. You will. You’ll know
disillusionment. You’ll experience doubt. People will disappoint
you by their actions. But that can’t
discourage you. Cynicism has never won a
war, or cured a disease, or started a business, or
fed a young mind, or sent men into space. Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice. (applause) Hope is what gave young
soldiers the courage to storm a beach and liberate
people they never met. Hope is what gave young
students the strength to sit in and stand up and
march for women’s rights, and civil rights, and
voting rights, and gay rights, and
immigration rights. Hope is the belief,
against all evidence to the contrary, that there
are better days ahead, and that together we can build
up a middle class, and reshape our immigration
system, and shield our children from gun
violence, and shelter future generations from
the ravages of climate change. Hope is the fact that,
today, the single largest age group in America is 22
years old who are all just itching to reshape
this country and reshape the world. And I cannot wait to see
what you do tomorrow. Congratulations. (applause) Thank
you, Class of 2014. God bless you. God bless the United
States of America. (applause)

Michael Martin

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