When Bo Obama, the First Dog, came running up to me on the South Lawn of the White House in the spring of 2012 as the Rutgers Magazine staff concluded photographing alumnus Bill Yosses GSNB’78, who was then the executive White House pastry chef, I figured this was about as close to meeting the president as I was going to get. One degree of separation  would have to do.

But, I, along with 50,000 people in High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, had the good fortune to get a little closer to President Barack Obama when he spoke at the 250th Anniversary Commencement on May 15. Four short weeks after he had, at long last, accepted the university’s invitation to speak, setting off a mad dash to prepare for his arrival (“We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”), President Obama bounded onto the stage of the stadium, and the place erupted (“I Came Here Because You Asked”). Stepping up to the lecturn, after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree, he said: “Hello, Rutgers! RU, rah-rah!” With that, he had won the crowd over.

Bit by bit, Rutgers had recently been winning over the president, too. “America converges here,” he said, early on in his 45-minute delivery. “And in so many ways, the history of Rutgers mirrors the evolution of America—the course by which we became bigger, stronger, and richer and more dynamic, and a more inclusive nation.”

The Rutgers community’s efforts to create a more inclusive society had brought the president to Camden, in May 2015, to see for himself the successful transformation of the city of Camden in its efforts to serve its residents through better police work and improved community relations. Because of the prominent roles of Rutgers University–Camden alumni Dana Redd and J. Scott Thomson, who are, respectively, the mayor of the city and the Camden County Police chief, President Obama called Camden “a symbol of promise for the nation.” Read the story about them in “Doing the Right Thing.”

The president visited Rutgers University–Newark last November to discuss ways to improve the criminal justice system. Speaking at the Center for Law and Justice, President Obama called for, among other things, reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders. One way is to implement “procedural justice,” which asks defendants and the court to show mutual respect, a simple act of civility that can go a long way in slowing the revolving door of incarceration for petty offenses. Rutgers–Newark alumna Victoria F. Pratt, chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court, personifies its success. Read the story about her in “Asking for a Little Respect.”

When President Obama concluded his speech by imploring students to “make sure the next 250 years are better than the last,” Rutgers was well on its way in doing its share.

— David W. Major