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Obama Delivers Commencement Speech At Rutgers University

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's graduation season, and there's no commencement speaker in greater demand than the president of the United States. And with his busy schedule, President Barack Obama can only choose a few schools a year. And yesterday, Rutgers University in New Jersey became one of them. So why Rutgers?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: The truth is, Rutgers, I came here because you asked.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Now it's true that a lot of schools invite me to their commencement every year, but you are the first to launch a three-year campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Emails, letters, tweets, YouTube videos - I even got three notes from the grandmother of your student body president.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEW PANCONI: I guess she was just going to keep sending letters and hoping that he would eventually come.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

That's outgoing student body president Matthew Panconi. While his grandmother might have sealed the deal, he deserves some of the credit, too.

CORNISH: He and his fellow students worked on petitions, a Facebook group, videos. And a month ago, after Rutgers had already confirmed journalist Bill Moyers as the commencement speaker, Panconi was in Washington and he hand-delivered one last invitation to the White House.

PANCONI: I figured, you know, what's the worst that could happen? They're going to tell me no?

MCEVERS: Two days later, he got a yes. The university had two graduation speakers - Obama and Moyers. Panconi says the years of work that went into that moment? Totally worth it for both him and his grandmother.

PANCONI: She was sitting there in her VIP seating and she was loving every minute of it.

CORNISH: In his speech, President Obama talked about maintaining hope and persistence in the face of adversity. But we're confident that Matt Panconi, his grandmother and the Rutgers class of 2016 already knew that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.