Barack Obama

Obama, recalling hard-partying youth, exhorts graduates

KALAMAZOO, Michigan (Reuters) - President Barack Obama recalled youthful indiscretions on Monday as he urged graduating high schoolers to work hard, persevere and spurn the instant gratification offered by technology and reality TV.

U.S. President Barack Obama attends the 2010 Kalamazoo Central High School graduation at Western Michigan University in Michigan, June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

“I partied a little too much - this is a cautionary tale, don’t be cheering - and studied just enough to get by, thinking that hard work and responsibility, that’s old-fashioned,” he told Kalamazoo Central High School’s graduation class in Michigan.

“After I realized I was living solely for my own entertainment ... I didn’t seem to be making much of a ripple, I started to change my tune. I realize that by refusing to apply myself, there was nothing I could point to that I was proud of,” Obama said.

Kalamazoo Central beat around 1,000 other U.S. high schools in a national competition to win the honor of hosting the president at its commencement ceremony.

Around half of the school’s students come from low income families. The White House said it was chosen for making significant academic progress while winning community backing.

Obama wants to reward top schools, encourage under-performing institutions to do better and provide more support for teachers.

He acknowledged that today’s graduates today face multiple distractions his own generation did not have.

“You all were raised with cell phones and iPods; texting and email; able to call up a fact, a song, a friend with the click of a button - so you’re used to instant gratification. But meaningful achievement, lasting success - that doesn’t happen in an instant,” he said.

Obama has asked Congress to implement a major overhaul U.S. elementary and secondary schools in an effort to boost standards and redo the “No Child Left Behind” law of his predecessor George W. Bush.

U.S. students have slipped in international tables of accomplishment, particularly in math and science, which could hold back U.S. businesses in the future.

“We have to educate our way to a better economy. We have to get dramatically better,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call before the president’s visit.

Editing by Alan Elsner