President Obama delivered the commencement speech at UC Irvine on Saturday afternoon, telling graduates they “have a right to be optimistic” and urging them to get involved in the fight against climate change.
According to NBC Los Angeles, the President said he could not wait to see what this generation of college graduates will do, calling them “super underrated” and crediting his own administration with much of the progress the graduates have seen in the country.
“Consider this: since the time most of you graduated from high school, fewer Americans are at war,” Obama told the 8,000 graduates at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “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.”
Obama’s speech marks the second time a president has given the commencement speech at UC Irvine, according to the Los Angeles Times; Lyndon B. Johnson spoke there in 1964, and Michelle Obama spoke to graduates there in 2009.
Obama also announced the creation of a $1 billion fund for states affected by extreme weather, for rebuilding and security purposes. The president said the fund “should not be a partisan issue,” before taking a jab at Republicans.
“After all, it was Republicans who used to lead the way on new ideas on how to improve the environment,” he said, referencing President Nixon’s passage of the Clean Air Act and President Theodore Roosevelt’s development of national parks.
The Times reports that UC Irvine spent $2 million on the ceremony. Campus officials and students spent about a year sending postcards and video invitations in an effort to persuade the president to speak at the school’s 50th anniversary and commencement speech.
“I’m here for a simple reason,” Obama said. “You asked.”
President Obama was at a $32,000-a-plate fundraiser in Laguna Beach on Saturday morning for donors to the Democratic National Committee. After the speech, Obama flew to Palm Springs, where he’ll stay until Monday morning.