COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year to the day after kicking off his victorious re-election campaign on this college campus, President Barack Obama returned to Ohio State University and told graduates that only through vigorous participation in their democracy can they right an ill-functioning government and break through relentless cynicism about the nation's future.
"I dare you, Class of 2013, to do better. I dare you to dream bigger," Obama said.
In a sunbaked stadium filled with more than 57,000 students, friends and relatives, Obama lamented an American political system that gets consumed by "small things" and works for the benefit of society's elite. He called graduates to duty to "accomplish great things," like rebuilding a still-feeble economy and fighting poverty and climate change.
"Only you can ultimately break that cycle. Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be," Obama told about 10,000 cap-and-gown-clad graduates gathered for the rite of passage. "But it requires your dedicated, informed and engaged citizenship."
Invoking the end of the Cold War, Sept. 11 and the economic recession, Obama said this generation had been tested beyond what their parents could have imagined. But he said young Americans have responded with a deep commitment to service and a conviction that they can improve their surroundings. He urged graduates to run for office, start a business or join a cause, contending that the health of their democracy "requires your dedicated, informed and engaged citizenship."
Obama, who returned to the United States on Saturday after a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, is scheduled to speak this month at graduation ceremonies at Morehouse College in Atlanta and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.