Last Saturday, President Obama delivered one of four commencement addresses he will give this spring, but rather than inspire the new graduates of the University of Michigan to envision and embark on their own versions of the American dream, Mr. Obama offered a puzzling and preachy message on his version of civics.
Speaking at the "Big House," U of M's famed football stadium, the president instructed the 8,500 graduates and roughly 70,000 spectators in "Democracy 101." The edited version: Government is good.
Even Michigan grads didn't necessarily appreciate his remarks, and that's saying something. The school's student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, ran this headline: "Graduates offer mixed reviews of Obama's speech."
Full disclosure: I went to the school up the road. The one with Sparty. And Tom Izzo. And the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.
Where I live, one gets used to a certain intellectual superiority emanating from Ann Arbor. I imagine it's a feeling similar to the smugness some schools have about always going to the NCAA men's basketball tournament rather than crossing fingers to reach the NIT — it's just a given. But I digress.
So forgive me if I'm unimpressed that the University of Michigan (I cannot bring myself to capitalize the word "the") was able to convince yet another sitting president to speak at its commencement ceremony. Mr. Obama is the fourth to do so in the past 50 years.
Beyond mere graduation speeches, presidents have come to the campus of U of M to unveil major initiatives (the Peace Corps, the Great Society) as well as to offer in-depth explanations of policy.
But not this president. In fact, one graduate noted that his speech seemed to be a recycled version of the talk he gave a year ago at Notre Dame University. Another was quoted as saying, "It didn't seem to have anything to do with us," meaning the graduating class of 2010.
Indeed. U of M's graduates, as well as thousands more who attended Michigan's 50 other public and private colleges and universities, face a 14.1 percent unemployment rate in the state. "Brain drain" has reached epic proportions. The state's 15 public universities serve 300,000 students, nearly half of whom will leave the state after earning their degrees.
Some of the people with the best chance of rescuing this state were sitting in the seats in front of their president on Saturday afternoon. Talk about an opportunity.