Monday, June 16, 2014

Obama Comes to Orange County

Rebel Girl tries to capture the moment.
Last Saturday Rebel Girl and her family got up before dawn and drove to Angel Stadium. They spent hours waiting for a commencement ceremony whose procession of graduates lasted over an hour and whose speeches took less time than those at IVC graduation. There was, she noted, no prayer. There were flags. There was the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (by a talented UCI MFA) which reduced the middle aged man sitting next to her to tears. There were plenty of people on the dais but only a few were introduced by name. The Jumbo-tron showed others whose names were familiar to UCI alums like Rebel Girl and Red Emma — the Peltasons, aged and waving, the widowed Mrs. Aldrich standing beside them.

There was pomp and there was circumstance and eventually, there was the President of the United States, Barack Obama. To say he was greeted warmly does not do justice to the power of the standing ovation (three, by her count). You could feel the people surging forward. You could feel them listen.

He had a lot to say.

Rebel Girl admired him for seizing the rhetorical situation, meeting the expectations — and going beyond. He praised the graduates (highlighting some individuals in the crowd), humored them (Zot! Zot!) and then did what commencement speakers do, offered warning and advice. The media will tell you that he talked about climate change. He did. But he talked about that in the context of valuing education (the education the graduates just received) and valuing America — and yes, choosing hope over cynicism.
...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. UC Irvine 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...
...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 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....
At the end, sitting there with their twelve-year-old child born down the road at UCI Medical, two UCI graduates whose lives were transformed by that university but who never attended their own commencements felt somehow, that they just had, some twenty years later.  This one was for them.

To read Obama's full speech, click here.

Photo: Still waiting. Walking the stadium.
The little guy waits patiently.

4 comments:

  1. It is not cynicism to challenge a disproven conjecture. That's what the scientific method demands. We still do not know if climate change is the result of man and the debate has not been put to rest just because the left and their scientists say so. We do not yet have clean fuel technology; our POTUS is living in Disneyland.

    Sure, it's good to encourage our students to make a difference, that is of course, if they can find jobs in a depressed economy created and prolonged by you know who. UCI students are pretty smart. To think that they actually believe this steaming load of crap is astounding.

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  2. One important note...
    This was a graduation ceremony of UCI students right? Isnt the graduation about the students? How many former IVC students received their degrees? Seems like faculty put more emphasis on the speaker than the students.
    shame.

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    1. It was all about the students - just minimized the speeches from the usual suspects (VPs, regents, trustees, etc. ) TWO student speakers, one student singers - lots of student elements throughout via films, social media on the JumboTron and via the announcers repartee. It was unforgettable. Yes, lots of IVC alums in attendance - and graduating. All seemed pretty darn happy. Nothing shameful.

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