CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - In his first stop on a two-day college tour, President Obama tried to reassure seniors venturing into a fragile job market that the American dream is still realistic.
"You've spent your years here while the whole world has been trying to recover, but it's not yet fully recovered from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," he said. "The degree you earn from [the University of North Carolina] will be the best tool you have to achieve the basic American promise."
The president acknowledged the economy is not as robust as he would like, but he suggested he inherited the problem. "Too many folks in the middle class are searching for that security that started slipping away before the recession," he said.
The event launched a tour of three university campuses in three states -- North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa -- to urge Congress to prevent interest rates on many student loans from doubling this summer. If Congress does not act, the rates will rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 for an estimated 7.4 million U.S. undergraduates.
The appearance also served to energize North Carolina students ahead of a May 8 primary when a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions appears on the ballot. "It will remind people to vote," said Lila Fleishman, a 19-year-old freshman from Durham, N.C.
At the same time, students such as Bridget Walsh acknowledged her friends aren't as excited about Obama four years after he rode the youth vote to the White House. "I think you can really say a lot of it's fizzled," said Walsh, an 18-year-old from Cincinnati.
Republicans welcomed Obama to North Carolina but questioned why he is campaigning on the taxpayer's dime.
"The country is in trouble economically," said Robin Hayes, a former congressman and Republican state party chairman in a Tuesday morning teleconference. "The truth is that one of two students is not going to get jobs when they graduate."
The students began lining up at 5 a.m. -- the earliest time allowed by the university -- and packed Carmichael Arena more than an hour before the president entered the building. But the hotter ticket: Seeing Obama on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," an appearance taped with musical guest Dave Matthews in nearby Memorial Hall.