MIDDLETOWN, CONN. -- Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Wesleyan University today, in place of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kennedy asked Obama to speak in his place after he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last Tuesday. His stepdaughter, Caroline Raclin, the daughter of his wife Victoria, was in the graduating class.
Obama began by delivering a message from Kennedy to the graduating class of more than 800 students. "I'd like to start by passing along a message from Ted," Obama said. "To all those praying for my return to good health, I offer my heartfelt thanks. And to any who'd rather have a different result, I say, don't get your hopes up just yet!"
Obama's speech was not political; rather, it focused on the importance of community service. He urged the students to contribute back to society "because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation."
"You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy," Obama said. "You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's."
Obama promised to expand the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps if he is elected, and urged the students to become engaged in any way. He joked that they do not have to "do something crazy like run for President" but that they should "make us believe again."
"At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again, that's your task 2008."
According to the campaign, the 15,000 in attendance was the largest commencement crowd at Wesleyan since Oprah spoke in 1998.