President Obama Tells UC Irvine Graduating Class: Do Big Things

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After a spring full of protests over commencement speakers, it's nice to see that one California school was happy with its speaker — the President of the United States. Standing before 37,000 people, President Obama delivered the University of California, Irvine commencement address Saturday afternoon at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Thousands traveled to the Orange County city to hear Obama's speech, which served as a call to action to the young graduates. The president touched upon hot topics such as climate change, and used the platform to announce his latest initiative: a $1 billion competitive fund for states severely affected by weather disasters.

Obama opened his commencement address with a lighthearted jab at UC Irvine's mascot, the anteater. "Hello, Anteaters!," Obama said, laughing. "That is something I never thought I'd say."

He continued by granting some perspective to the Class of 2014, who were only sophomores in high school when Obama was first elected to the presidency in 2008:

I’m here to tell you that 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 nine million jobs. And the number of states where you're free to marry who you love has more than doubled. That's just some of the progress you've seen over your four years at UC Irvine.

But the nugget of Obama's speech was the reality of climate change. He advised the UC Irvine graduates to focus on the "big things" instead of "small things," and warned the students about climate change naysayers who openly deny science and claim it's "a liberal plot."

“Since this is a very educated group, you already know the science," Obama said. "The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late, or we fail to protect the world we leave not to just to my children, but to your children."

He compared the current climate-change battle in politics to President Kennedy launching a course for the moon and further space exploration. It may have sounded like a far-fetched idea then, but Obama noted, "I don't remember anyone saying the moon wasn't real, or that it was made of cheese."

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The president also doled out some advice on how to handle opposition throughout their lives — a not-so-veiled jab at his Republican detractors in Congress:

No matter what you do in life, you will run up against a stubborn status quo and people determined to stymie your best efforts, who say you can't do something and shouldn't bother trying. I've got some experience with this myself.

Obama ended his speech on a high note, reminding UC Irvine graduates to hold onto their idealism and optimism, and not give into cynicism. "Hope is a better choice," Obama said.

The 2014 UC Irvine commencement was not only historic because of the address given by President Obama; the university is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. On June 20, 1964, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the university, though the school did not officially open for classes until 1965.

Images: University of California Irvine, Facebook/UC Irvine