(CNSNews.com) - "I don't pretend to have all the answers," President Obama told Ohio State students at their commencement on Sunday. "I'm not going to offer some grand theory on a beautiful day like this -- you guys all have celebrating to do. I'm not going to get partisan, either, because that's not what citizenship is about."
President Obama, stressing the theme of "citizenship," said he would ask two things from the class of 2013 -- "to participate and to persevere."
"After all, your democracy does not function without your active participation. At a bare minimum, that means voting, eagerly and often," Obama said. "It means knowing who's been elected to make decisions on your behalf, and what they believe in, and whether or not they delivered on what they said they would.
"And if they don't represent you the way you want, or conduct themselves the way you expect, if they put special interests above your own, you've got to let them know that's not okay. And if they let you down often enough, there's a built-in day in November where you can really let them know it's not okay."
Earlier in the speech, President Obama mentioned Wall Street and the media -- and he alluded to Congress -- as some of the institutions that have let Americans down.
"Now, if we're being honest with ourselves, as you've studied and worked and served to become good citizens, the fact is that all too often the institutions that give structure to our society have, at times, betrayed your trust. In the run-up to the financial crisis, too many on Wall Street forgot that their obligations don't end with what's happening with their shares. In entertainment and in the media, ratings and shock value often trump news and storytelling.
"In Washington -- well, this is a joyous occasion, so let me put it charitably -- I think it's fair to say our democracy isn't working as well as we know it can. It could do better. (Applause.) And so those of us fortunate enough to serve in these institutions owe it to you to do better every single day."
Obama told the students that "participation" means more than "just voting." He said he hopes many of the graduates will run for office some day, "because our democracy needs you." He then joked that running for office will "give you a tough skin. I know a little bit about this," he said.
'You should reject these (conservative) voices'
After saying he would not "get partisan," Obama got a little partisan, telling the students to reject the notion that big government is sinister.
First, he talked about doing "big things together that we could not possibly do alone." Those big things, he said, include building transportation systems, education and health care networks, conquering "fascism and disease," visiting the Moon and Mars, and securing "our God-given rights for all of our citizens, regardless of who they are or what they look like, or who they love."
"We, the people, chose to do these things together -- because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
"Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.
"You should reject these voices," the president told the graduates. "Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted.
"We have never been a people who place all of our faith in government to solve our problems; we shouldn't want to. But we don't think the government is the source of all our problems, either."
At the end of his speech, Obama listed the "many important challenges" facing the country, all of them part of his liberal agenda: "To repair the middle class, to give more families a fair shake, to reject a country in which only a lucky few prosper because that's antithetical to our ideals and our democracy -- all of this is going to happen if you are involved, because it takes dogged determination -- the dogged determination of our citizens.
"To educate more children at a younger age, and to reform our high schools for a new time, and to give more young people the chance to earn the kind of education that you did at The Ohio State University, and to make it more affordable so young people don't leave with a mountain of debt -- that will take the care and concern of citizens like you," Obama said to applause.
"To build better roads and airports and faster Internet, and to advance the kinds of basic research and technology that's always kept America ahead of everybody else -- that will take the grit and fortitude of citizens.
"To confront the threat of climate change before it's too late -- that requires the idealism and the initiative of citizens.
"To protect more of our kids from the horrors of gun violence -- that requires the unwavering passion, the untiring resolve of citizens. (Applause.) It will require you."