President Obama Delivers Commencement Address at Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota

President Obama delivered the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota this past week. His trip to South Dakota was a milestone, as it marked his first trip to South Dakota, as well as completing the President’s tour of every state. He jokingly mentioned that, “I was saving the best for last. To the other 49, I hope you take no offense.”

The President’s address to the graduating class of Lake Area Technical Institute marks the beginning of the commencement season at colleges and universities across the country. In recent years conservatives have been invited to such events in ever diminishing numbers, even as commencement speakers seemingly grow ever more liberal. We’ll see if the same trend holds true this year.


Here is President Obama’s commencement address in full:



Partial Transcript Below: Full Transcript at

Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Congratulations.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Well, hello, Watertown!  (Applause.)  It’s good to be in South Dakota.  I want to thank Governor Daugaard and the First Lady.  Apparently, Michelle and her, they’re on the same wave length when it comes to keeping us straight.  (Laughter.)  To Senator Thune, Senator Rounds, Congresswoman Noem, Mayor Thorson, Superintendent Dr. Lesli Jutting — all of you for your extraordinary hospitality today. 

I am thrilled to be here.  I have now been to all 50 states as President — and I was saving the best for last. To the other 49, I hope you take no offense.  (Laughter.)  I will say that your Tourism Secretary sent me a very impressive letter listing all the South Dakota sites that I still need to see.  And they looked great, but I decided that the first one I needed to see was Lake Area Tech. 

So the question is, why am I here?  Well, you started to hear the answer earlier from the previous speaker.  Why would I come to a two-year college in the fifth-biggest city in South Dakota?

Well, the reason is because I believe that in a fast-paced, hyper-connected, constantly changing world, there are few institutions that are more important to America’s economic future than community colleges.  And there are few community colleges that are as important as Lake Area Tech.  This school is leading the way.

Compared with other community colleges, the graduation rate at Lake Area is more than three times the national average. Three times.  (Applause.)   Within six months, 98 percent of those graduates — you — are either employed or continuing your education.  The average Lake Area graduate who enters the workforce earns nearly 50 percent more than other new hires in this region.  And as has already been noted, since 2011, there’s been an award for excellence called the “Aspen Prize.”  It’s basically the Oscars for great community colleges.  Only two community colleges in the country made the top 10 every year the prize has been awarded — and one of them is Lake Area Tech.  (Applause.) 

This is not an accident.  It’s the result of a relentless focus on teaching real-world skills that lead directly to a job.  In your time here, you’ve done hands-on work with companies across the upper Midwest.  Employers even help design the curriculum.  You work direct with the tools and the technology that you’ll encounter in the workforce — from car engines to welding equipment to your new MakerSpace, with 3D printers that were actually built by Lake Area students.  And your instructors haven’t just taught you new skills — they’ve helped place you in new careers.

And you might think all this attention on job training comes at the expense of great teaching — but if anything, the opposite is true.  This is the kind of place where students are on a first-name basis with their instructors.  If you call at 10 p.m., they’ll answer your call — although I hope you don’t do that, because folks need their sleep.  If you don’t make it to morning classes, they’ll check up on you and make sure you’re okay.  I heard one student who skipped school to go hunting found that out the hard way that somebody was going to check up on you.  (Laughter.)  One of today’s graduates, Colin Blume — where’s Colin?  Raise your hand.  (Applause.)  Stand up, Colin, just so you — hey, that’s Colin.  Colin is a big guy, by the way.  So Colin — I’m going to quote Colin on this.  He said, “You’re family, and they’ll do anything to help you along the way.” 

And that sense of mission has been part of Lake Area since this school was founded 50 years ago.  And today it matters even more — that sense that we’re a family, and that we’ll do anything to help each other along the way. 

So that’s why I came here today — to this little tiny school, in this little tiny town.  I didn’t come here to inspire you.  I came here because you, the graduates, inspire me.  That’s why I came here.  (Applause.)  You have lived through some of the toughest economic times in your country’s history, and you still chose to come here and invest in yourself, because you still believe that America is a place where you can make it if you try.  That’s what hope is — the belief that even if today is hard, with a little hard work, there’s something better around the bend. 

And it is that promise that has always set this country apart.  It’s the idea that through hard work and through sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams, but we still come together as one American family to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well; that we take responsibility for looking after our own kids, but we’re also thinking about somebody else’s kids.  That if we got a good break and did well, you know what, we’re going to have turn around and make sure that somebody else gets a break too.  It’s the idea, as Colin said, that we’re family, and we’ll do anything to help each other along.  And we know that if we’re helping somebody else, as some point we may need help too.   

That’s who we are as Americans.  We are rugged individuals.  We haven’t lost that pioneering spirit that brought many of our grandparents and great-grandparents to these plains.  We ask for nothing more than the chance to blaze our own trail.  And yet each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, helped us find our path. 

Which brings me to one last story.  It’s a story about a boy who was born more than 100 years ago in Wallace, South Dakota, about 25 miles from here.  His family didn’t have much.  But they were able to give him an education because he was part of that first generation of Americans to grow up in a country that believed high school should be available for everybody.  After high school, that boy went on to graduate college, and then he became a teacher, and then he became a mayor, and then he became a senator.  At the time Lake Area was founded, Hubert Humphrey was Vice President of the United States.  But he never once forgot what made his American story possible.  “The road to freedom,” he said, “here and everywhere on Earth, begins in the classroom.”  The road to freedom begins in the classroom.

TO the Class of 2015, you have earned the chance to walk the road to freedom and to make of your lives what you will; to write that next great chapter in our American story.  And your path will not always be easy, and your way forward will not always be clear.  But you have worked hard for this moment.  And if you hold fast to that faith in yourself and in your country and in our God, then the greatest moments of your journey are the ones that still lie ahead. 

It’s your world.  Thank you, graduates.  God bless you.  Congratulations to the Class of 2015.  (Applause.)  And good job, Lake Area Tech!  We’re proud of you.