Notes from Last Weekend's UC Irvine Obama Commencement

So it happened: On Saturday, nearly 7,000 new UC Irvine graduates got to turn their tassels after listening to a half-hour long speech by Mr. POTUS Barack Obama himself. It was a pretty standard commencement: People cried, people screamed, some people were drunk, so instead, I offer you my notebook dump from UC Irvine's 49th commencement.


  • For security purposes and to avoid traffic, some UCI students woke up at four in the morning to get to Angel's stadium. Busses from the campus' housing communities left around 6:15 a.m, but students didn't get on the field until about 11:30. What'd they do for five hours? Oh, you know–photos, Instagram, selfies, and more selfies (seriously, check out #UCIGrad if you don't believe me).
  • Traffic Obamapocalypse 2014 was mostly avoided, owing partly to the fact that Obama helicoptered from Laguna to the stadium. Freeways were mostly clear and surface streets were quiet, except for the tiny chunk harboring protesters. You couldn't really hear them a block away though, too many lost cars gunning their engines.
  • Photo equipment was searched by a bomb team supervised by two Secret Service agents wearing polos, khakis, and oxfords. They were pretty buff, sure, but I think I could outrun them pretty easily (this isn't going to get me put on a list, is it?).
  • Two more press notes: Stadium staff put out a small spread for journos right when the graduates started making their way to their seats. We got water, sandwiches, but no coffee (to the chagrin of myself and a few more of the youngins). Seriously, I would've given up the sandwiches and the water just for coffee.
  • Otherwise, the press box was pretty friendly except for when the White House Press Corps walked by. They, for some reason, stared us down. Most of us didn't notice 'cause we were busy actually working.
  • It took a full hour to parade out and seat all the graduates. In that time, “Pomp and Circumstance” looped a grand total of 24 times. It gets boring.
  • Everything actually happened mostly on time, the only delay being the five minutes it took Chancellor Michael Drake to fix his wizard robes before getting on stage. It was OK though; UCI Marshall Associate Professor Phillip Thompson (he's like the vice wizard, I guess) kept the crowd warmed up pretty well. “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming… well, please wait with me!” he said while standing awkwardly with the rest of Ministry of Magic.
  • Nearly everyone got up when Obama hit the stage. You could hear the protesters for maybe half a second before they were drowned out by 40,000 different variations of “Woo.”
  • Newly minted voice MFA Melissa McCann hit an octave I didn't know existed while singing the national anthem. You can check out her 2014 performance here:

  • Three people opened for Obama — Undergraduate Speaker Jacqueline Rodriguez, Graduate Speaker Jessica Pratt (Not NewU EIC Jessica Pratt), and Chancellor Drake. The loudest applause break any of them got? Rodriguez…when she shook President Obama's hand.
  • Obama's speech was a standard commencement speech (congratulations, future, education, etc, etc) except for the good ten minutes spent talking about climate change. That was pretty unexpected.
  • The commencement speech was actually pretty light on the hope. POTUS only mentioned hope five times (in quick succession in a two minute chunk of his speech). That was tied with “underrated” (five mentions) and just slightly over “dream” (four mentions), and “optimism” (also four mentions).
  • Plenty of people were watching, even if they couldn't make it into the stadium. The commencement's online stream had over 27,000 pageviews with a peak concurrently viewership of nearly 4,000. Too bad the web guys couldn't count how many people took pictures of their laptops when Obama came on, I saw at least three of those.
  • The crowd stopped the speech to yell a grand total of 11 times. They really love hope, y'know?
  • Now, for those of you who for some reason want to watch the commencement, here you go:

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

I'm just going a take a nap.

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Email: cl**@oc******.com. Twitter: @charlesnam. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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