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Obama to Grads: Seek Challenges, Not Party Fights

Saturday, 01 May 2010 08:32 AM


WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has some advice for the class of 2010: Don't get caught up in the partisan trench warfare that often consumes Washington and use your talents instead to help America confront its biggest challenges.

Obama's homily on the imperatives of citizenship comes in a speech Saturday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

At the same time, 45 miles away, Sarah Palin is set to denounce the president as a big-government Democrat whose free-spending ways will bankrupt the country.

The former GOP vice presidential hopeful is headlining a Clarkston, Mich., forum hosted by the anti-tax Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Officials expect more than 1,000 to attend.

Palin's been on a nationwide speaking tour as she considers a 2012 White House bid and promotes her book.

Obama's audience will be a bit larger than the former Alaska governor's: a capacity crowd of 80,000 at Michigan Stadium.

In the speech, White House spokesman Bill Burton said, the president will urge graduates "to participate as citizens in shaping our nation's destiny. He will offer reflections on the role of government, drawing on our founding fathers and based on his own experiences."

"He will ask them to eschew partisan rancor and come together to move the country forward," Burton added.

Among those listening will be Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who's on Obama's list of potential Supreme Court nominees.

Michigan, which was a key battleground in 2008, is likely to reprise the role in both the fall congressional campaign and Obama's expected re-election bid.

A big reason is the economy. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate — 14.1 percent — and an angry electorate to match.

In the Republican's weekly radio and Internet address, Rep. Pete Hoekstra said Obama's visit presents an opportunity "to show the president, firsthand, the painful plight of the people of Michigan."

Many of the graduates Obama addresses will soon learn how tough it is to find a job in this economy, the Michigan congressman said, adding that the share of young Americans out of work is the highest it's been in more than 50 years.

Obama's speech is the first of four he is giving this commencement season.

On May 9, he'll speak at Hampton University, a historically black college in Hampton, Va., founded in 1868 on the grounds of a former plantation.

He's also addressing Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on May 22, continuing a tradition of presidents addressing graduates at the service academies. He announced his Afghanistan troop surge at West Post last December.

Also this year, for the first time, Obama plans a high school commencement. It's part of his "Race to the Top" education initiative, with its goal of boosting the United States' lagging graduation rate to the world's best by 2020.

High schools across the country have competed for the honor, submitting essays and videos. A vote on the White House website yielded three finalists, and Obama will choose among them next week.

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