|June 04, 2005
Barack Obama challenged the members of the Knox College Class of 2005 to ask themselves: "What will be my place in history?"
On their last day in college, the 220 graduating seniors heard Obama relate that, earlier this year, on his first day in the U.S. Senate, a reporter asked him: " 'Senator Obama, what is your place in history?' "
"I laughed out loud... I thought [the reporter] was kidding," Obama said. "I hadn't taken a single vote, I hadn't introduced one bill, I hadn't even sat down at my desk... But as I was thinking about what to tell you, the Class of 2005, I think it's not a bad question to ask yourself."
"Instead of doing nothing or simply defending 20th-century solutions, let's imagine what we can do to give every American a fighting chance in the 21st century," Obama said. The nation needs to invest in emerging technologies, education and job training, he said.
• Barack Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois
• Elizabeth Hayford, President of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest
Caterpillar Faculty Achievement Award
• Jon Wagner, Professor of Anthropology
What's Your Place in History?
Obama said that the nation faces "big challenges... We have to slough off bad habits like driving gas guzzlers... our kids have to turn off the TV sets and video games and start hitting the books... We have to reform public schools that were designed for an earlier time..."
"But we know it can be done, because in this very place it's happened before," Obama said, recalling Knox College's history. The anti-slavery abolitionists who founded Knox in 1837 "told their fellow Americans that [living with slavery] would not be our place in history..."
The founders of Knox "knew that they were all brothers and sisters... and their own salvation would be forever linked to the salvation of this land we call home," Obama said.
Weather or not...
A thunderstorm dampened, but failed to derail Knox's traditional outdoor ceremony -- the last time it was held indoors was in 1989. The Knox College Choir had the final word on the weather at the ceremony, as they sang a American hymn: "Though the darkness gather round... no storm can shake my inmost calm... I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it..."
Following the ceremony, Obama met with reporters on campus. Topics included:
• CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement: "It will probably benefit the agricultural export economy, but unlike NAFTA, it will not have a substantial impact..."
• Prospects for this year's graduates: "Knox College graduates are fortunate. They have received an excellent four-year education. They'll be able to succeed in this economy. But that's not true for all people their age. One of our goals has to be [expanding educational and economic] opportunities."
Biographies of honorary degree recipients
2005 Commencement Video
Knox College Commencement 2005 Photos
Senior Class Speaker Video
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Video of Sen. Obama's Address
Text of Sen. Obama's Address
Video of Senior Speaker Daniel Lieberman
Up close and personal: More candids by Andy Fitz
Above, Sen. Obama with Pres. Taylor; 2005 grad Tom Gorgas, makes his way through the pre-commencement downpour. Below, Eric Hutchcroft, a 1994 Knox grad with Progressive Communications, got soaked, but saved his PA system.
Photography by Peter Bailley and Andrew Fitz '08