By: Dominic Sanfilippo – Staff Writer
On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama delivered his seventh and penultimate State of the Union address to a packed Capitol chamber. Although there is much to unpack from his speech, two of his themes resonated with the lives of Dayton students now and for the future they will soon inhabit: higher education costs and the changing global environment.
“He shall from time to time give to Congress information on the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
This one sentence is all the guidance that Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution gives on the State of the Union. However, since George Washington gave the first of what would become an annual address Jan. 8, 1790 to a cold New York City in a newly birthed America, the State of the Union has slowly become a ritual of our country’s civic life.
As generations pass, the speech has grown more accessible. Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 address was the first heard by radio listeners, and Harry Truman’s 1947 speech was seen on televisions across the country and world for the first time. In 1997, Bill Clinton’s fifth address as president streamed live on the Internet.
In his address this year, the president unveiled a plan to make two years of community college free for anyone who stays at or above a 2.5 grade point average and maintains pace toward receiving a degree or certificate, according to USA Today.
According to CNN, President Obama stated in his speech that communities with similar programs like “Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership [show] that free community college is possible.”
Not all people believe this idea will become the law and practice of the land; Minnesota Republican representative John Kline told USA Today that the president “shouldn’t be making new promises that the American people can’t afford.”
Riley Weber, a junior intervention specialist education major from Indiana, disagrees. “As someone who plans to dedicate her entire life to education, I firmly agree that knowledge should be free and accessible,” Weber said. “I realize that there are still many issues for the proposal that need to be addressed, but other countries provide free higher education already. Maybe the U.S. is not ready at this exact moment, but we have to start somewhere.”
Climate change was another major talking point during the address.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” President Obama said, according to the Washington Post.
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists-that we don’t have enought information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either,” Obama said, “But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association] and at our major universities.”
According to the Washington Post, the president pointed to a new carbon emissions deal with China and future energy regulations as crucial to slowing environmental degradation and the harmful effects of global warming. He also alluded, said the Washington Post, to new infrastructure and clean energy jobs that could result from green technology.
Several Dayton students took great stock in the President’s warnings on climate change.
“We must remember that climate change is a global issue, but it can only be resolved at the local level by continuing to promote environmentally conscious decisions on our campus,” Anthony Whaley, a fifth year geology major, said. “This affects my daily life in every decision I make from composting my KU container to biking around town instead of driving. I would urge UD students to become involved in the SEE Initiative, the Hanley Sustainability Institute and Sustainability Club or apply for the ETHOS or River Steward programs.”
Chris Wagner, a senior mechanical engineer, agreed. “As university students, we are armed with higher knowledge and given the opportunity to become leaders for change,” Wagner said. “I’m excited to see the shift at UD into becoming an advocate for sustainable action in the coming years and it’s amazing to be here and to be a part of that change.”
Some students are clearly energized by the viability and importance of some of the plans outlined by the president in the State of the Union, or they might disagree – like junior political science major Ian Dollenmayer, who said that the boldness of Obama’s proposals made it clear that, “he is continuing to forget that he must work with Congress to achieve these goals, not simply make pandering statements from the podium.”
“[The State of the Union] in one way or another shapes the nation’s development making it absolutely vital that we as the leaders of tomorrow participate in politics today.” [Dollenmayer said.]