Obama visits 50th state with graduation speech in Watertown

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WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) — President Barack Obama checks the 50th state off his list of places to visit with a planned commencement speech Friday in Watertown before about 700 tech school grads and their families.

The Democrat stopped in South Dakota in 2008 while campaigning for the party's nomination and spoke last year in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that straddles South Dakota. But Obama began the year four states short of having visited all 50 as president. The White House quickly scheduled trips to Idaho and South Carolina before a stop in Utah in April.

"I can't let my South Dakota friends feel neglected," he told KSFY-TV last month when he announced the last stop.

With a visit to the Mount Rushmore State, he'll be just the fourth president to hit all 50 while in office, according to the White House Historical Association.

Obama is scheduled to pitch his trade policy Friday at Nike Inc. headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, and then promote his plan for free community or technical college education at the Lake Area Technical Institute graduation ceremony at the Watertown Civic Arena.

Lake Area is among the nation's top community colleges, recognized for rigorously preparing its students and for having a graduation rate that's higher than the national average. The school has been a top 10 national finalist for the prestigious Aspen Institute Community College Excellence Award three consecutive times and its 73 percent graduation rate far outpaces the nation's approximate 40 percent for two-year colleges.

Lake Area Technical Institute President Mike Cartney, who in December was among the attendees at the White House College Opportunity Summit, said he was "overwhelmed and speechless" when told about the presidential visit.

Many of Watertown's 22,000 residents have been busy cleaning, painting and polishing the city for the stop, which will include a motorcade from the airport to the arena.

Local printer Young's Primetime Sports and Embroidery is selling T-shirts that feature a photo of the president and the phrase "Saved the Best For Last."

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