Why President Obama is going back to university


Since news broke that U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at The University of Queensland, Brisbane has scarcely been able to talk about anything else.

With Obama’s track record of legendary speeches made from various universities across the world, one can’t help but wonder why the President favours this particular style of venue.

One answer is relatively straightforward: before becoming President, or even Senator, Obama was a lecturer in U.S. constitutional law at The University of Chicago. He is comfortable in a university setting, familiar with speaking to students, and appears to genuinely enjoy being around so many educated young people.

Researchers say Obama’s level of rhetoric changes subtly when he speaks at universities. Under pressure from both the public and press, politicians are increasingly required to distill complex policy issues into shorter, snappier ‘soundbites’. Not Obama, who as opposed to his predecessor George W. Bush, chooses to deepen his vocabulary when making a significant point instead of banging impatiently on his lectern.

Another answer points to a more politically-inspired motive, which is that traditionally, Obama and his Democrat party have always attracted the votes of younger audiences, members of the notoriously politically disengaged Generation Y. In choosing the hallowed halls of learning in universities, from Cairo to Cape Town, from Washington’s American University to Australia, Obama is appealing to a carefully cultivated fan base.

Of course, the fact also remains that as young and educated Millennials, it is likely that most of us will end up moving into positions of power around the world. Perhaps Obama has noticed Gen Y’s political apathy, and is simply hoping to inspire more of us to engage further with the world around us.

Hear Mel Keyte chat with Steve Austin on 612ABC Brisbane about Obama’s university speeches here.


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Mel Keyte

Mel Keyte is a Journalism/International Relations student at The University of Queensland with a passion for writing, travel and new experiences. Although she dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent, Mel's main goal is simply to discover what she enjoys doing most in life.

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