Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama congratulated a student from Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan on Monday after delivering the commencement address.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. ¡ª President Obama has been telling the nation that he takes responsibility for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On Monday, he imparted his buck-stops-here philosophy to an audience of high school graduates, telling them: ¡°Don¡¯t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes. Take responsibility where you fall short as well.¡±
Mr. Obama spent the morning in Washington meeting with cabinet officials to discuss the oil spill. Hours later, he was standing in a university gymnasium before about 280 graduates and their families as the commencement speaker for Kalamazoo Central High School, which won a nationwide competition to promote his Race to the Top education initiative.
Mr. Obama, whose 17-month-old presidency has had its share of ups and downs, warned the graduates that they would have their share, too.
¡°The truth is, no matter how hard you work, you¡¯re not going to ace every class,¡± he said. ¡°You¡¯re not going to succeed the first time you try something. There will be times when you screw up, when you hurt the people you love. There will be times when you make a mistake and you stray from the values that you hold most deeply.¡±
The Kalamazoo speech was Mr. Obama¡¯s first high school commencement address as president; his predecessor, George W. Bush, delivered the 2008 commencement address in Greensburg, Kan., a small town that was practically wiped off the map by a deadly tornado.
The White House said Mr. Obama wanted to spotlight a school that was striving to achieve.
The school is ethnically and socioeconomically diverse; half the students are African-American, more than 70 percent qualify for federal lunch assistance, and many find it difficult to afford college. In choosing Kalamazoo Central from more than 1,000 applicants, the White House cited a privately financed program, Kalamazoo Promise, backed by anonymous donors, that guarantees scholarships covering 65 percent to 100 percent of the cost of tuition for every graduate.
In his advice to the graduates, Mr. Obama evoked memories of his own youth, telling the students he did not truly understand the value of perseverance when he was their age.
¡°Sometimes I was rebellious. Sometimes I partied a little too much,¡± he said. ¡°But after a few years, after I was living solely on my own, and I realized living solely for my own entertainment wasn¡¯t so entertaining anymore ¡ª and it wasn¡¯t particularly satisfying anymore.¡±
Mr. Obama has spoken often of the importance of personal responsibility, especially in urging parents to be more engaged in raising their children. He returned to the responsibility theme in Kalamazoo, paired the message with a lament about Washington finger-pointing, when he said, ¡°It¡¯s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame.¡±
In urging the graduates to take on the challenges facing the country, he circled back to the oil spill in the gulf, which has gotten him caught up in that blame game.
¡°We¡¯ve got an economy to rebuild, children to educate, diseases to cure,¡± Mr. Obama said. ¡°We¡¯ve got threats to face; we¡¯ve got an oil spill to clean up.¡±
----A version of this article appeared in print on June 8, 2010, on page A15 of the New York edition.