President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod divulged a few secrets of his college days today as he told 1,300 journalism and other DePaul University graduates to "chase their passions” and not “succumb to the pull of the pull of the practical.”
Axelrod’s remarks came as Iranians protested suspicious official election returns and doctors gathered in Chicago, where Obama will address them Monday.
After the speech, Axelrod told reporters, “Iran has to consider whether to go down a path to isolate them from the rest of the world.”
But he largely stayed away from current events in his comencement address at Allstate Arena in Rosemont to DePaul’s College of Communications and other schools. He focused on his own experiences in journalism and politics and why he thought these students should “explore and experiment, take some chances.”
“You are as noble and unfettered and as free as you will ever be to pursue your passions and chase your dreams,” Axelrod said.
He smiled and added, “You may say, ‘That’s easy for you to say — you work for the president of the United States . . . The day that I walked across the stage, that day a million years ago, the last thing I ever dreamed was that I would be walking every morning to an office 20 feet from the president.”
Axelrod said when he was the age the graduates are now, he couldn’t wait to become a journalist — so much so that he ignored his studies in favor of newspaper internships.
“You ever have one of those dreams where you’re suddenly taking a final and you panic because you never attended a class? I’m here to tell you I lived my dreams,” he said.
Last month, Obama’s stance in favor of legal abortion provoked hundreds of protesters to picket his commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. But no protest signs greeted Axelrod, only a standing ovation and a vote of confidence from DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider, who credited Axelrod with setting a positive tone in the Obama campaign.
“He is your last lesson,” Holtschneider told the graduates. “About four hours ago, in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized liberal democracies . . . saying [people] cannot speak their will or mind. Today’s honoree, I think, is a living answer to that charge. If there ever was an election built around a popular, bottom-up movement, this was it.”
Axelrod was a University of Chicago graduate, but he told the graduating students and their families that as soon as he graduated, he bought season tickets for DePaul’s men’s basketball team.
“To show you how old I am, DePaul was a national powerhouse then,” Axelrod said.
He also got in a dig at Rosemont, where the Blue Demons play, saying, “It’s great to be home in Illinois, in the world’s greatest city. I mean Chicago, not Rosemont.”
DePaul communications Prof. Barbara Willard praised Axelrod’s skill in “branding” and “honing Obama’s message.”
“His main focus of the campaign was on the president’s voice,” Willard said. “The message, theme and tone of the campaign remained consistent.”
Axelrod spoke of his start in journalism.
“In those days, superb reporting played a historic role in uncovering the truth, shining a bright light on events like Vietnam and Watergate,” Axelrod said. “Journalists heped save the republic, and I wanted to be a part of that. But, over time, things changed. By the mid-1980s, journalism was becoming more business than calling. The front office began to take over the newsroom. The emphasis went from veracity to velocity, from reporting to receipts.”
He said that’s when he went into politics.
Axelrod said he hoped this generation could find new ways of doing journalism on the Internet and other media.
For instance, the student speaker at the commencement, Gabriel Vargas, earned a degree in computer-game development.
“Your generation changed politics forever,” Axelrod said. “There’s no reason you can’t do the same wth journalism, radio and the Internet or any other field.”
He warned the grads not to neglect their lives in favor of their careers. After Bill Clinton becamew the Democratic nominee for president and offered Axelrod the job of communications director, Axelrod turned down the dream to spend more time with his wife and three children.
“Had I taken that job, I wouldn’t have neen introduced later that year to a splendid young guy from the South Side with the unusual name of Barack,” he said.
After his speech, Axelrod spoke about Iran.
“We have grave concerns about the nuclear program in Iran,” he said.
Axelrod said the administration’s strategy in Iran “was never predicated on a regime” and that the United States will seek dialogue with whoever emerges the winner of Iran’s election.
He also spoke about Obama’s visit to Chicago Monday, where the presidentn will speak to the American Medical Association’s annual convention. He said Obama will seek to convince doctors that changes to the health-care system to make it more affordable to patients will mean less paperwork for doctors and generally is in their best intertest.
(The Chicago Sun-Times)