By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006
STILLWATER, Okla., May 6 -- President Bush touted one of the few bright spots in his beleaguered administration, telling graduates of Oklahoma State University Saturday that "the job market for college graduates is the best it has been in years."
"Thanks to our strong and growing economy, you will have more jobs to choose from than previous classes -- and your starting salaries will be higher," Bush said. "And the opportunities beyond are limited only by your dreams."
With growing numbers of Americans telling public opinion surveys they are dissatisfied with Bush's leadership because of the war in Iraq and his handling of many domestic issues, the economy has been one of the few points of optimism during much of the president's second term.
Speaking to 2,700 graduates and their families assembled under a cool drizzle at Boone Pickens Stadium for commencement, Bush warned graduates that they are entering a dynamic job market, buffeted by the challenges and opportunities of global competition.
He said that rather than shy away, they should be prepared to meet the challenges by taking chances and learning new skills.
"I urge you to rise to these challenges, and take charge of your future," Bush said. "Be open to new ideas. Be willing to take risks. Treat the degree you receive today as the first step in a lifetime of learning -- and your lives will be rich in purpose and rewards."
Bush said the United States must compete with surging economic powers.
"We are . . . seeing the rise of new competitors like China and India, and this competition creates uncertainty," he said. "Some look at the changes taking place all around us, and they worry about our future. Their reaction is to wall America off from the world, and to retreat into protectionism. This is a sure path to stagnation and decline. I urge you to reject this kind pessimism."
Bush called on the graduates to consider a life of service and to be compassionate citizens. He pointed to the efforts of an OSU fraternity to build a playground at a homeless shelter. He commended students who went to the Gulf Coast to clean up debris and deliver supplies after Hurricane Katrina.
Bush noted that 27 graduates are becoming commissioned officers in the U.S. Army and Air Force, and said they are carrying on a tradition of service exemplified by 2nd Lt. Luke S. James, a 2002 OSU graduate who was killed in Iraq.
James, newly married with an infant son, went to Iraq in 2004 as a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and was killed while leading his platoon on patrol. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Bush recounted the words of James's mother, who said: "All of Luke's life, he was very dedicated to the concept of freedom. While no soldier wants war, he understood the necessity of war -- that it can ensure the freedoms we enjoy in America."
Even in a fast-changing world, the president said, the country's future hinges on old-fashioned values.
"Ultimately, the character of America will be determined by your willingness to serve a cause larger than yourselves," he said. "The day will come when you will be asked what you have done to build a better America than the one you found. I am confident that if you answer the call to service, your lives will be more fulfilling, your country will be more hopeful -- and you will never be disappointed."