President Obama Tells High School Graduates to Give Back

The Commander in Chief was the commencement speaker at Worcester Technical High School's graduation.

President Barack Obama is greeted by Gov. Deval Patrick, as Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty and Rep. Jim McGovern watch upon his arrival at Worcester Regional Airport. / AP Photo

President Barack Obama is greeted by Gov. Deval Patrick, as Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty and Rep. Jim McGovern watch upon his arrival at Worcester Regional Airport. / AP Photo

President Barack Obama doesn’t recall who gave the speech at his high school graduation because he was too focused on the after-party he planned to attend following the ceremony. He also admitted that he doesn’t remember much of that party, either. “I’m just telling the truth here,” Obama said Wednesday, garnering laughs from the crowd before he delivered the keynote commencement speech at Worcester Technical High School, in front of hundreds of students from the Blue Ribbon-recognized institution.

But unlike his own experiences when finally finishing his high school career, the president hoped that Worcester graduates would always remember one thing: give back to the community that helped them succeed. “We are at our strongest, our best, when we are working together and looking out for one another, and having a responsibility toward each other,” Obama said, adding that students should be cognizant of returning favors to the people who gave them so much. “Whatever you do next, I hope you keep giving back…I want to make sure that you understand the incredible leadership we now expect from you.”

Obama said Worcester Tech’s class of 2014 serves as a model for the hard work the rest of the nation should strive for, and applauded grads for their accomplishments over the last four years, which set a standard for academic achievements and showed their willingness to commit to rigorous coursework to obtain a quality education. “This high school has set itself apart,” he said. “The thing I really want to do here today is for the nation to learn from Worcester Tech.”

Obama reminded students that their success was made possible by the people that have helped nurture them along the way. He said without the support of loved ones, educators, and mentors, who spent time teaching them and investing in their education, they wouldn’t be able to advance on to careers or college opportunities. “Some people made an investment in you, and I can’t imagine a better investment,” Obama said.

Obama used his speech on Wednesday as an opportunity to talk about the struggles students may face when graduating college, when some of them will be saddled by astronomical debt due to school loans. He specifically mentioned recent legislation filed by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren intended to curb the high interest rates tacked onto loan payments, which was struck down by Senate Republicans this week. Obama’s reference to the bill drew “boos” from the crowd, at which point Obama used the segue to stress the importance of voting out elected officials that they don’t see eye-to-eye with. “Don’t boo,” he said. “Just remember to vote.”

Despite the fact that students were graduating during a time Obama called “cynical,” in the aftermath of a great recession, two wars, and into a culture often focused on conflict and controversy, he said he was certain that Worcester students would not only be successful in their endeavors, but they would also become part of a group of young adults who will help the nation outperform, outcompete, and out-hustle worldwide competition. “We are Americans, and that’s what we do,” he said. “And when we do, nobody can beat us.”

Above all, Obama urged students to keep trudging down the path they’ve been on. “You’re already doing it. You’re already blazing a trail. You’re already leading. You’re already giving back. You don’t need to remember what I said today, because you’re already doing it,” he said.