February 12, 2013
Update: In a February 2013 article, New York magazine charted the numerous times that themes first articulated in President Obama's commencement address at Knox have reappeared in later speeches, including most recently, the 2012 Democratic National Convention and the President's second inaugural address.
President Barack Obama's head speechwriter has cited President Obama's Commencement Address at Knox College as one of the sources of inspiration for the President's second inaugural address on January 21, 2013.
Preparing to write Obama's inaugural address, Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting at the White House, told Sam Stein of the Huffington Post that he
"gathered a dozen or so of Obama's best addresses -- 'a binder full of speeches' -- and mined them for inspiration, memorable turns of phrase and compelling themes. At the top of the list was the commencement speech Obama delivered at Knox College as a senator in 2005, when he spoke generally about the need for collective action in a global society.
'We always go back' to that speech, Favreau said."
Obama's 2005 Commencement Address at Knox is already praised as a high point in American speechmaking. It was included in the book, Great Speeches by African Americans. The anthology features 20 speeches spanning more than 150 years, including orations by Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Videos of Obama's Commencement Address at Knox on YouTube have garnered more than 10,000 views in all.
Selections from Barack Obama's 2005 Commencement Address at Knox College:
How does America find its way in this new, global economy? What will our place in history be?
...our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. That's what's produced our unrivaled political stability.
Today, on this day of possibility, we stand in the shadow of [Abraham Lincoln] a lanky, raw-boned man with little formal education who once took the stage at Old Main and told the nation that if anyone did not believe the American principles of freedom and equality, that those principles were timeless and all-inclusive, they should go rip that page out of the Declaration of Independence.
My hope for all of you is that as you leave here today, you decide to keep these principles alive in your own life and in the life of this country. You will be tested. You won't always succeed. But know that you have it within your power to try. That generations who have come before you faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own time. And that through our collective labor, and through God's providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other's burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that distant horizon, and a better day.
Knox presented an honorary doctorate to Obama, who was serving in the United States Senate at the time.
Also honored at Commencement 2005 were honorary degree recipient Elizabeth Hayford, President of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest; senior class speaker Dan Lieberman and Caterpillar Faculty Achievement Award winner Jon Wagner, Professor of Anthropology.