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Obama encourages students to carry 'the dream'

MIAMI, Fla. -- Capping off a busy day that took him from surveying tornado damage in Alabama to a scrubbed shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral -- where he met with the recovering Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- President Obama encouraged graduating college students here to persevere and keep in mind that America's best days are ahead of it.

Despite discrimination and injustices in the country's past, "We carried the dream forward," Obama told about 4,000 students of Miami Dade College's North and West campuses here at the packed James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami.

Obama was warmly received. When he was introduced, he was greeted with chants of his 2008 presidential campaign slogan, "Yes, we can." The venue provided the president an audience with a key constituency group -- young, mostly African American and Hispanic students -- in a swing state. Miami Dade College is the largest institution of higher education in the country with more than 174,000 students enrolled, according to the school. It also boasts that it graduates more black and Hispanic students than any other in the nation.

And he didn't miss the opportunity to lay out his vision of society for the students, many of whom will vote for the first time in 2012.

He said the country faces choices between fighting for the middle class or not, continuing to invest in education and clean energy (instead of being vulnerable to swings in oil price), breaking promises to seniors and the disabled and "tell them to fend for themselves" or "keep strengthening" the social safety net, and pushing for immigration reform or not.

Many of those topics are ongoing battles in Washington, in particular, recently, the debate over Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget proposal that would phase out a government-run Medicare program for those who are currently younger than 55 years old.

Obama again voiced support for the DREAM Act, which would give students in American schools but who weren't born in the United States citizenship. Obama noted that some Miami Dade College students had admitted to being undocumented in hopes of getting the DREAM Act passed.

"I firmly believe we should fix our immigration system," Obama said, adding, "I will keep fighting along side many of you in order to make the DREAM Act the law of the land. … It will be difficult, and it will take time. I know some of you wish that I could bypass Congress and change the law myself, but that’s not how democracy works. Democracy is hard, but it’s right."

Obama also drew on his peronal story, talking of his father and his efforts to get into a college, as well as his personal hopefulness for the direction of the country, rooted, in part, in his seeing astronauts come ashore in Hawaii while sitting atop his grandfather's shoulders when he was a boy. He likened that to today, when his daughters toured a space shuttle and got to meet with astronauts at Cape Canaveral.

That's "my proof America endures," Obama said. "Our brave endeavor on this earth continues."