The tweet had 182,000 “likes” by Thursday morning and had been retweeted tens of thousands of times.
According to CNN, Debenham and his older brother Eli composed the tweet together because Obama is a hero of his and he wants Americans to hear “that voice of hope again.”
Obama’s office did not immediately respond to a query about the tweet, but CNN quoted spokeswoman Katie Hill as indicating that Obama was “very flattered” by the tweet, but she did not comment further.
The tweet garnered a wave of responses, many of them pleading with Obama to make such an address. One mother tweeted: “Please! My first child is graduating college from MSU.” She said she is heartbroken that she won’t be able to see her daughter walk across the stage. “You speaking will help heal the wound some and at least make 2020 memorable in a positive way.”
Others also urged the former president to deliver the address as a source of inspiration to the younger generation.
Some of the responses invoked President Trump, who has repeatedly denounced Obama and tried to rescind Obama-era policies in many areas.
One person tweeted: “Trump would hate it! Please, let it happen.” And Debenham responded: “Wether [sic] he does or not, it isn’t about that. It’s about someone who speaks for my generation. Like Barack Obama was the first President I can remember. The classroom mock elections, watching his inauguration in school. That’s what this is about. Hearing that voice of hope again.”
Obama gave numerous commencement speeches when he was president, including one at Barnard College in New York City on May 14, 2012, in which he referred to the 2007-2009 Great Recession that he inherited when he came into office and that had ravaged the U.S. economy.
See, the question is not whether things will get better — they always do. The question is not whether we’ve got the solutions to our challenges — we’ve had them within our grasp for quite some time. We know, for example, that this country would be better off if more Americans were able to get the kind of education that you’ve received here at Barnard — (applause) — if more people could get the specific skills and training that employers are looking for today.We know that we’d all be better off if we invest in science and technology that sparks new businesses and medical breakthroughs; if we developed more clean energy so we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that’s threatening our planet. (Applause.)We know that we’re better off when there are rules that stop big banks from making bad bets with other people’s money and -- (applause) -- when insurance companies aren’t allowed to drop your coverage when you need it most or charge women differently from men.Applause.) Indeed, we know we are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life — whether it’s the salary you earn or the health decisions you make. (Applause)We know these things to be true. We know that our challenges are eminently solvable. The question is whether together, we can muster the will — in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics — to bring about the changes we need. And I’m convinced your generation possesses that will. And I believe that the women of this generation — that all of you will help lead the way. (Applause.)
In May 2016, he gave the commencement speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C., saying in part:
As I was preparing these remarks, I realized that when I was first elected President, most of you — the Class of 2016 — were just starting high school. Today, you’re graduating college. I used to joke about being old. Now I realize I’m old. (Laughter.) It’s not a joke anymore. (Laughter.)....Yes, our economy has recovered from crisis stronger than almost any other in the world. But there are folks of all races who are still hurting -- who still can’t find work that pays enough to keep the lights on, who still can’t save for retirement. We’ve still got a big racial gap in economic opportunity. The overall unemployment rate is 5 percent, but the black unemployment rate is almost nine. We’ve still got an achievement gap when black boys and girls graduate high school and college at lower rates than white boys and white girls. Harriet Tubman may be going on the twenty, but we’ve still got a gender gap when a black woman working full-time still earns just 66 percent of what a white man gets paid. (Applause.)We’ve got a justice gap when too many black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. This is one area where things have gotten worse. When I was in college, about half a million people in America were behind bars. Today, there are about 2.2 million. Black men are about six times likelier to be in prison right now than white men.Around the world, we’ve still got challenges to solve that threaten everybody in the 21st century -- old scourges like disease and conflict, but also new challenges, from terrorism and climate change.So make no mistake, Class of 2016 -- you’ve got plenty of work to do. But as complicated and sometimes intractable as these challenges may seem, the truth is that your generation is better positioned than any before you to meet those challenges, to flip the script.