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  • Point number one: When you hear someone longing for thegood old days,” take it with

  • a grain of salt.

  • Take it with a grain of salt.

  • We live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history.

  • We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came

  • before.

  • But I guess it's part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty, to want

  • to look backwards and long for some imaginary past when everything worked, and the economy

  • hummed, and all politicians were wise, and every child was well-mannered, and America

  • pretty much did whatever it wanted around the world.

  • Guess what.

  • It ain't so.

  • Thegood old daysweren't that good.

  • Yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster,

  • or when government ran more smoothly.

  • There were moments when, immediately after World War II, for example, or the end of the

  • Cold War, when the world bent more easily to our will.

  • But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes.

  • In fact, by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it

  • was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.

  • And by the way, I'm notset aside 150 years ago, pre-Civil Warthere's a whole

  • bunch of stuff there we could talk about.

  • Set aside life in the '50s, when women and people of color were systematically excluded

  • from big chunks of American life.

  • Since I graduated, in 1983 — which isn't that long ago — I'm just saying.

  • Since I graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy, the share of Americans living in povertythey're

  • all down.

  • The share of Americans with college educations have gone way up.

  • Our life expectancy has, as well.

  • Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks in business and politics.

  • More women are in the workforce.

  • They're earning more moneyalthough it's long past time that we passed laws

  • to make sure that women are getting the same pay for the same work as men.

  • Meanwhile, in the eight years since most of you started high school, we're also better

  • off.

  • You and your fellow graduates are entering the job market with better prospects than

  • any time since 2007.

  • Twenty million more Americans know the financial security of health insurance.

  • We're less dependent on foreign oil.

  • We've doubled the production of clean energy.

  • We have cut the high school dropout rate.

  • We've cut the deficit by two-thirds.

  • Marriage equality is the law of the land.

  • And just as America is better, the world is better than when I graduated.

  • Since I graduated, an Iron Curtain fell, apartheid ended.

  • There's more democracy.

  • We virtually eliminated certain diseases like polio.

  • We've cut extreme poverty drastically.

  • We've cut infant mortality by an enormous amount.

  • Now, I say all these things not to make you complacent.

  • We've got a bunch of big problems to solve.

  • But I say it to point out that change has been a constant in our history.

  • And the reason America is better is because we didn't look backwards we didn't fear

  • the future.

  • We seized the future and made it our own.

  • And that's exactly why it's always been young people like you that have brought about

  • big changebecause you don't fear the future.

  • That leads me to my second point: The world is more interconnected than ever before, and

  • it's becoming more connected every day.

  • Building walls won't change that.

  • Look, as President, my first responsibility is always the security and prosperity of the

  • United States.

  • And as citizens, we all rightly put our country first.

  • But if the past two decades have taught us anything, it's that the biggest challenges

  • we face cannot be solved in isolation.

  • When overseas states start falling apart, they become breeding grounds for terrorists

  • and ideologies of nihilism and despair that ultimately can reach our shores.

  • When developing countries don't have functioning health systems, epidemics like Zika or Ebola

  • can spread and threaten Americans, too.

  • And a wall won't stop that.

  • If we want to close loopholes that allow large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid

  • paying their fair share of taxes, we've got to have the cooperation of other countries

  • in a global financial system to help enforce financial laws.

  • The point is, to help ourselves we've got to help othersnot pull up the drawbridge

  • and try to keep the world out.

  • And engagement does not just mean deploying our military.

  • There are times where we must take military action to protect ourselves and our allies,

  • and we are in awe of and we are grateful for the men and women who make up the finest fighting

  • force the world has ever known.

  • But I worry if we think that the entire burden of our engagement with the world is up to

  • the 1 percent who serve in our military, and the rest of us can just sit back and do nothing.

  • They can't shoulder the entire burden.

  • And engagement means using all the levers of our national power, and rallying the world

  • to take on our shared challenges.

  • You look at something like trade, for example.

  • We live in an age of global supply chains, and cargo ships that crisscross oceans, and

  • online commerce that can render borders obsolete.

  • And a lot of folks have legitimate concerns with the way globalization has progressed

  • that's one of the changes that's been taking placejobs shipped overseas, trade

  • deals that sometimes put workers and businesses at a disadvantage.

  • But the answer isn't to stop trading with other countries.

  • In this global economy, that's not even possible.

  • The answer is to do trade the right way, by negotiating with other countries so that they

  • raise their labor standards and their environmental standards; and we make sure they don't impose

  • unfair tariffs on American goods or steal American intellectual property.

  • That's how we make sure that international rules are consistent with our valuesincluding

  • human rights.

  • And ultimately, that's how we help raise wages here in America.

  • That's how we help our workers compete on a level playing field.

  • Building walls won't do that.

  • It won't boost our economy, and it won't enhance our security either.

  • Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when

  • it comes to entering this countrythat is not just a betrayal of our valuesthat's

  • not just a betrayal of who we are, it would alienate the very communities at home and

  • abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism.

  • Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges

  • on immigrantsthat doesn't just run counter to our history as the world's melting

  • pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism

  • has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the

  • globe.

  • That's how we became America.

  • Why would we want to stop it now?

  • AUDIENCE MEMBER: Four more years!

  • Can't do it.

  • Which brings me to my third point: Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding

  • of sciencethese are good things.

  • These are qualities you want in people making policy.

  • These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens.

  • That might seem obvious.

  • That's why we honor Bill Moyers or Dr. Burnell.

  • We traditionally have valued those things.

  • But if you were listening to today's political debate, you might wonder where this strain

  • of anti-intellectualism came from.

  • So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be.

  • In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.

  • It's not cool to not know what you're talking about.

  • That's not keeping it real, or telling it like it is.

  • That's not challenging political correctness.

  • That's just not knowing what you're talking about.

  • And yet, we've become confused about this.

  • Look, our nation's FoundersFranklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jeffersonthey were

  • born of the Enlightenment.

  • They sought to escape superstition, and sectarianism, and tribalism, and no-nothingness.

  • They believed in rational thought and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master

  • our own fates.

  • That is embedded in our constitutional design.

  • That spirit informed our inventors and our explorers, the Edisons and the Wright Brothers,

  • and the George Washington Carvers and the Grace Hoppers, and the Norman Borlaugs and

  • the Steve Jobses.

  • That's what built this country.

  • And today, in every phone in one of your pocketswe have access to more information than

  • at any time in human history, at a touch of a button.

  • But, ironically, the flood of information hasn't made us more discerning of the truth.

  • In some ways, it's just made us more confident in our ignorance.

  • We assume whatever is on the web must be true.

  • We search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions.

  • Opinions masquerade as facts.

  • The wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel.

  • Now, understand, I am sure you've learned during your years of collegeand if not,

  • you will learn soonthat there are a whole lot of folks who are book smart and have no

  • common sense.

  • That's the truth.

  • You'll meet them if you haven't already.

  • So the fact that they've got a fancy degreeyou got to talk to them to see whether

  • they know what they're talking about.

  • Qualities like kindness and compassion, honesty, hard workthey often matter more than

  • technical skills or know-how.

  • But when our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they're not held accountable

  • for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, while actual experts are dismissed as

  • elitists, then we've got a problem.

  • You know, it's interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors

  • have gone to medical school, they know what they're talking about.

  • If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane.

  • And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, “I don't want somebody who's

  • done it before.”

  • The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and sciencethat is the path to decline.

  • It calls to mind the words of Carl Sagan, who graduated high school here in New Jersey

  • he said: “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depths

  • of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”

  • The debate around climate change is a perfect example of this.

  • Now, I recognize it doesn't feel like the planet is warmer right now.

  • I understand.

  • There was hail when I landed in Newark.

  • But think about the climate change issue.

  • Every day, there are officials in high office with responsibilities who mock the overwhelming

  • consensus of the world's scientists that human activities and the release of carbon

  • dioxide and methane and other substances are altering our climate in profound and dangerous

  • ways.

  • A while back, you may have seen a United States senator trotted out a snowball during a floor

  • speech in the middle of winter asproofthat the world was not warming.

  • I mean, listen, climate change is not something subject to political spin.

  • There is evidence.

  • There are facts.

  • We can see it happening right now.

  • If we don't act, if we don't follow through on the progress we made in Paris, the progress

  • we've been making here at home, your generation will feel the brunt of this catastrophe.

  • So it's up to you to insist upon and shape an informed debate.

  • Imagine if Benjamin Franklin had seen that senator with the snowball, what he would think.

  • Imagine if your 5th grade science teacher had seen that.

  • He'd get a D. And he's a senator!

  • Look, I'm not suggesting that cold analysis and hard data are ultimately more important

  • in life than passion, or faith, or love, or loyalty.

  • I am suggesting that those highest expressions of our humanity can only flourish when our

  • economy functions well, and proposed budgets add up, and our environment is protected.

  • And to accomplish those things, to make collective decisions on behalf of a common good, we have

  • to use our heads.

  • We have to agree that facts and evidence matter.

  • And we got to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to know what the heck they're

  • talking about.

  • All right.

  • I only have two more points.

  • I know it's getting cold and you guys have to graduate.

  • Point four: Have faith in democracy.

  • Look, I know it's not always pretty.

  • Really, I know.

  • I've been living it.

  • But it's how, bit by bit, generation by generation, we have made progress in this

  • nation.

  • That's how we banned child labor.

  • That's how we cleaned up our air and our water.

  • That's how we passed programs like Social Security and Medicare that lifted millions

  • of seniors out of poverty.

  • None of these changes happened overnight.

  • They didn't happen because some charismatic leader got everybody suddenly to agree on

  • everything.

  • It didn't happen because some massive political revolution occurred.

  • It actually happened over the course of years of advocacy, and organizing, and alliance-building,

  • and deal-making, and the changing of public opinion.

  • It happened because ordinary Americans who cared participated in the political process.

  • AUDIENCE MEMBER: Because of you!

  • Well, that's nice.

  • I mean, I helped, butLook, if you want to change this country for

  • the better, you better start participating.

  • I'll give you an example on a lot of people's minds right nowand that's the growing

  • inequality in our economy.

  • Over much of the last century, we've unleashed the strongest economic engine the world has

  • ever seen, but over the past few decades, our economy has become more and more unequal.

  • The top 10 percent of earners now take in half of all income in the U.S.

  • In the past, it used to be a top CEO made 20 or 30 times the income of the average worker.

  • Today, it's 300 times more.

  • And wages aren't rising fast enough for millions of hardworking families.

  • Now, if we want to reverse those trends, there are a bunch of policies that would make a

  • real difference.

  • We can raise the minimum wage.

  • We can modernize our infrastructure.