On Saturday, May 1, President Obama gave the Commencement Address at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Towards the end of his talk, he turned his attention to government service and to what happened at Ann Arbor nearly 50 years ago.

Here are three short excerpts…

Participation in public life doesn’t mean that you all have to run for public office - though we could certainly use some fresh faces in Washington.  But it does mean that you should pay attention and contribute in any way that you can.  Stay informed.  Write letters, or make phone calls on behalf of an issue you care about.  If electoral politics isn’t your thing, continue the tradition so many of you started here at Michigan and find a way to serve your community and your country - an act that will help you stay connected to your fellow citizens and improve the lives of those around you. 

It was fifty years ago that a young candidate for president came here to Michigan and delivered a speech that inspired one of the most successful service projects in American history.  And as John F. Kennedy described the ideals behind what would become the Peace Corps, he issued a challenge to the students who had assembled in Ann Arbor on that October night: 

“…[O]n your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country…will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.  I think it can.” 

This democracy we have is a precious thing.  For all the arguments and all the doubts and all the cynicism that’s out there today, we should never forget that as Americans, we enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than citizens in any other nation on Earth.  We are free to speak our mind and worship as we please; to choose our leaders and criticize them if they let us down.  We have the chance to get an education, work hard, and give our children a better life.