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Obama's Great 'Honor'

In his commencement address at Arizona State University, President Obama last night made repeated cracks about the university's controversial decision not to grant him an honorary degree.

A university spokesman at one point had said that Obama had not established the appropriate "body of work."

Here's the transcript of his speech, which includes even more good-natured ribbing than the prepared text.

"I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life. (Laughter.) First of all, Michelle concurs with that assessment. (Laughter.) She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home. But more than that, I come to embrace the notion that I haven't done enough in my life; I heartily concur; I come to affirm that one's title, even a title like President of the United States, says very little about how well one's life has been led -- that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve. (Applause.)"

In a speech that, as Michael D. Shear writes for The Washington Post, called for the graduates to reject the old formulas for success and shape a new future for their generation, Obama said that "the elevation of appearance over substance, celebrity over character, short-term gain over lasting achievement is precisely what your generation needs to help end....

"[F]ind somebody to be successful for. Raise their hopes. Rise to their needs," Obama said. "[T]hat's what building a body of work is all about -- it's about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up over time, over a lifetime, to a lasting legacy." (My italics.)

"It's about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star -- because the one thing I know about a body of work is that it's never finished. It's cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, each day that you give back and contribute to the life of your community and your nation.

Obama encouraged the young people to maintain an approach to life that includes: "a willingness to follow your passions, regardless of whether they lead to fortune and fame; a willingness to question conventional wisdom and rethink old dogmas; a lack of regard for all the traditional markers of status and prestige -- and a commitment instead to doing what's meaningful to you, what helps others, what makes a difference in this world....

"That's the great American story: young people just like you, following their passions, determined to meet the times on their own terms. They weren't doing it for the money. Their titles weren't fancy -- ex-slave, minister, student, citizen. A whole bunch of them didn't get honorary degrees. (Laughter and applause.) But they changed the course of history."

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 14, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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I find the granting of honorary degrees to generally be an insult to everyone who earned their degree through hard work. Unless the honorary degree is granted for a specific purpose, for example to a student who dropped out of school but went on to achieve greatness, then it is meaningless.

Posted by: fletc3her | May 14, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Don't be hindered by whities existing laws, which led our country to greatness, do your own thing.

Posted by: rgwheel | May 14, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I like the Robin Williams quote about honorary degrees:

"I have an honorary degree from Juilliard which is kinda like a nerf vibrator, you know. Nice to look at, but doesn't do a lot."

Posted by: Gallery90 | May 14, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Dan, Dan!

Honorary degrees? And honorary degrees and wanda sykes' comedy skits are front page news?

Ali Soufan is 'disappeared' from the WaPo news. Zelikow is featured as apologist. Torture is OK.

A story that will dwarf Watergate is sitting like a giant fog over D.C. and nobody there wants to talk about it.

Back down the worm hole, huh?

Posted by: boscobobb | May 14, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

A listing of past honorary degree's granted by ASU...

Posted by: m_mcmahon | May 14, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I don't appreciate the trustee's dishonesty. If they don't like Obama just say so. Don't lie to the nation about a president (any party) lacking a "body of work". Not everyone is an idiot 'Zonie.

Posted by: imike1 | May 14, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

What is the motivation for encouraging inexperienced youth to try to invent new ways of inventing the wheel? If they spent more time examining the past and learning from history and its role models, respecting their heritage, they would not be so prone to mess up and confuse reality with mere smoke and mirrors. It is only then that one is competent to produce a "body of work" that will benefit society and bring inner satisfaction. That includes Obama with his liberal agenda. I would encourage graduates to build on the past and then invent new ways of being of SERVICE and less involved with "ME". Pittsburgh

Posted by: rhehpittsburgh | May 14, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Guess he's still not as distinguished as Erma Bombeck!

Posted by: thrh | May 14, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Arizona, the state and its university, are racists. Look at McCain's rejection of Martin Luther King day. Obviously for the desert plantation, only sports stars can be successful and black. They must know their place, I guess.
Cheneyitis? The fiendishness of Western states' political elites must finally bottom out in Wyoming, the Oklahoma of the west in a two way tie for lamest.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | May 14, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

If President Obama had any honor he would treat his promise to restore the rule of law as binding.

Posted by: bprittenhouse | May 15, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

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