Obama Praises Naval Grads For Choosing Service

President Obama is urging graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to serve as examples not only of U.S. military might, but also of American values. Obama delivered the commencement address Friday in Annapolis, Md. It was his third graduation speech this spring, and the third to occur in a context of controversy.

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President Obama has urged graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to serve as examples not only of U.S. military might but also of American values. Mr. Obama delivered the commencement speech yesterday at Annapolis, his third graduation speech this spring and the third to occur in a context of controversy.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama told the Naval Academy graduates the oath they take as midshipmen is similar to the one he took on inauguration day. They, like he, is sworn to protect not only the American public but also the U.S. Constitution. It was an echo of the president's remarks a day earlier in a speech defending his plan to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, has said the new president is making America less safe. But here's what the new commander-in-chief said…

President BARACK OBAMA: When America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies. It energizes our adversaries and it endangers our national security and the lives of our troops. So as Americans we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals. We can and we must and we will protect both.

HORSLEY: The president praised the Navy and Marine graduates for choosing service and self-discipline over self-interest, a choice he also championed earlier this month at Arizona State University.

(Soundbite of song, "Pomp and Circumstance")

HORSLEY: Arizona State caused a minor stir when it decided not to award the president an honorary degree, saying his body of work is yet to come. Mr. Obama turned that potential slight into a lesson, telling graduates no matter how successful they think they are, there's always more to do. And he challenged them to pursue alternative paths, like Harriett Tubman's, Martin Luther King's, or Bill Hewlett and Dave Packer's.

Pres. OBAMA: Their titles weren't fancy - ex-slave, minister, student, citizen. A whole bunch of them didn't get honorary degrees.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: But they changed the course of history, and so can you, ASU.

HORSLEY: The president's most controversial commencement address came last Sunday when he took on the hot-button issue of abortion at a university that's emblematic of American Catholicism.

(Soundbite of music)

HORSLEY: The University of Notre Dame drew criticism for inviting a speaker whose support for abortion rights is so at odds with Catholic teaching. Mr. Obama readily accepted the invitation, though, and used the opportunity to urge all sides to turn down the angry rhetoric and try to work together. He acknowledged that when it comes to abortion and other divisive issues, finding common ground is not easy.

Pres. OBAMA: The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV-AIDS but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama told students at Notre Dame not to abandon their faith, but he added when it comes to persuading others, reason might be more useful. That was the president's own strategy this spring as he tested his powers of persuasion on the Fighting Irish, the ASU Sun Devils, and the newly-minted Navy and Marine officers at Annapolis.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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