Obama to speak Sept. 7 at UI

Obama to speak Sept. 7 at UI

How many times has a president visited C-U? Ask our historian here

URBANA — Former President Barack Obama will be speaking on the University of Illinois campus Sept. 7.

He’s set to receive the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government handed out by the UI’s Institute of Government & Public Affairs.

Obama will speak at 11 a.m. at Foellinger Auditorium, and tickets will be required for entry. Tickets will be distributed to UI system students and won't be available to the general public.

Obama Communications Director Katie Hill said the speech will "offer new thoughts on this moment and what it requires from the American people."

"He will echo his call to reject the rising strain of authoritarian politics and policies," she said in a statement. "And he will preview arguments he’ll make this fall, specifically that Americans must not fall victim to our own apathy by refusing to do the most fundamental thing demanded of us as citizens: vote."

The former president was nominated by a selection committee earlier this year, and he informed the university a few weeks ago that he would accept.

He was invited to give a speech in Chicago or Urbana, and he chose the Urbana-Champaign campus, said IGPA Director Jon Davis.

"When the discussion came around to President Obama, he was at the top of the list of people nominated," Davis said.

The award honors the legacy of Douglas, a U.S. senator from 1949 to 1967, who had high standards for ethics in public service, Davis said.

"I think President Obama exemplifies that," he said.

The former president will be given the award at a private ceremony separately from his public speech, Davis said. Members of Douglas' family, who also serve on the selection committee, are expected to attend.

Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, who interned for Douglas, tweeted that Obama's "achievements and vision of government embody what Senator Paul Douglas believed in."

Tim Killeen, president of the UI System, said the UI is "honored" to have Obama speak on campus.

“We are honored that President Obama will personally address our students,” he said in a statement. “And we are grateful to IGPA for bringing President Obama here, and giving his home state’s flagship University System an opportunity to recognize his dedicated service to our state and nation.”

The UI unsuccessfully recruited Obama to speak at the 2017 commencement ceremony, ultimately choosing actor Nick Offerman.

But Obama has visited Champaign-Urbana, and the campus, before.

In January 2004, a year before taking office as a U.S. senator, he give an address at the Holiday Inn in Urbana for that year’s Martin Luther King celebration.

Later that year, a week after his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention boosted him to the national stage, he stopped at the Illini Union as part of a five-day tour of the state as a Senate candidate. He gave a stump speech with familiar themes, invoking connectedness and common goals.

"There are more things binding us together than keeping us apart," he told the crowd of students, academics and Democratic Party faithful.

A day earlier he had drawn a crowd of 300 at the Clinton High School cafeteria, then addressed a crowd in Danville that night.

In 2005, as a senator, he visited the Illini Union to promote a bill to raise the maximum amount of need-based federal Pell grants.

And former Vice President Joe Biden visited the UI in 2015 as part of the "It's On Us" campaign against sexual assault on college campuses.

The annual Douglas award has been given since 1994, and past recipients include the late Sen. John McCain, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe, Archibald Cox, and Representative John Lewis.

The award is typically given out in the spring in Washington, D.C., around Douglas' birthday in late March. But it was delayed this year to accommodate Obama's schedule, said Jim Paul, assistant director of IGPA.

Similarly, last year's award came in November, to Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who both chaired the Federal Reserve Board.

Davis said tickets for Obama's speech will be open to students from all three campuses through a lottery system. The exact allocation will be released later.

Foellinger Auditorium has a capacity of about 1,300, Davis said.

"It's a great opportunity for students," he said.

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