WASHINGTON - Speaking to the graduating class of Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday, Obama called on the students to embrace the school's motto, "education for citizenship," and to press the government to act.
He encouraged students to work to narrow the income gap between the middle class and the wealthy, to improve education for children and protect them from gun violence, and to improve the environment, among other things.
Most of all, the president told the new generation to persevere in the face of obstacles.
"We remember Michael Jordan's six championships. We don't remember his nearly 15,000 missed shots," he said.
Obama pointed out that most of the graduating class was born as the Berlin Wall fell and grew up with the Internet and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Of the school's 10,000 graduating students, 130 have already served in the military and 50 will become commissioned officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, he said.
He told the graduates they are entering into an economy and job market that are "steadily healing."
Obama encouraged the graduates to participate in public life and to not give up on their values. Citizenship, he said, is "the idea at the heart of our founding: that as Americans we are blessed with God-given and inalienable rights, but with those rights come responsibilities - to ourselves, to one another and to future generations."
He told the graduates to reject the idea that government is the root of all problems.
"We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems, nor do we want it to," he said. "Because we understand that this democracy is ours," he said, "it's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government."
Wall Street, the media and politicians in Washington have "at times betrayed your trust," Obama said. "And those of us fortunate enough to serve in these institutions owe it to you to do better, every single day," he said.
"But I think of what your generation's traits - compassion and energy, a sense of selflessness and a boundless digital fluency - might mean for a democracy that must adapt more quickly to keep up with the speed of technological, demographic and wrenching economic change," he said.
"I dare you to do better. I dare you to be better," said Obama. "From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will. I wish you courage, and compassion, and all the strength you need for that tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime," he said.
Obama, who returned to the U.S. on Saturday after a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, is scheduled to speak this month at graduation ceremonies at Morehouse College in Atlanta and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.