President Obama urged graduates at The Ohio State University to celebrate "citizenship" and reject cynicism in a commencement speech to tens of thousands of graduates, family members and friends at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Sunday.

In a speech that mostly shied away from the political battles dominating headlines in Washington, Obama urged graduates to celebrate "the larger bonds we share as an American family."

"When a hurricane struck our mightiest city, and a factory exploded in small-town Texas, when bombs went off in Boston, and when a malevolent spree of gunfire visited a movie theater, a temple, an Ohio high school, a first-grade classroom in Connecticut — in the aftermath of darkest tragedy, we have seen the American spirit at its brightest," Obama said. "We’ve seen the petty divisions of color, class, and creed replaced by a united urge to help."

Obama also admitted that "our democracy isn’t working as well as we know it can," saying leaders on Wall Street and in Washington had "betrayed your trust."

"Those of us fortunate enough to serve in these institutions owe it to you to do better, every single day," Obama said.

But the president also warned graduates that they must both participate regularly and persevere through setbacks if they want to see change in those institutions.

"When we don’t, when we turn away and get discouraged and abdicate that authority, we grant our silent consent to someone who’ll gladly claim it," Obama said. "That’s how we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda; policies detached from what middle-class families face every day; the well-connected who publicly demand that Washington stay out of their business – then whisper in its ear for special treatment that you don’t get. That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want."

The comment was a clear allusion to the president's push for new gun controls. The White House in recent months has frequently highlighted polls indicating that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans favor the expansion of background checks for firearm purchases online and at gun shows.

Obama also implored graduates to "reject a country in which only a lucky few prosper, because it’s antithetical to our ideals and our democracy" — phrasing similar to that which he's employed when arguing for his budget proposal, which includes new taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations.

But while Obama concluded his remarks with a "dare" to "do better" and "be better," he also found moments for levity. Acknowledging he had previously spoken at a "certain university up north" (rival University of Michigan), Obama asked forgiveness.

"But, to be fair, you did let President Ford speak here once – and he played football for Michigan," Obama quipped to laughter.

Obama also said he should get credit for visiting Columbus five times in the past year.

Obama also said he should get credit for visiting Columbus five times in the past year, mentioning a stop to Sloopy's, a nearby diner, for some lunch — although undercut his credibility by mispronouncing the name.

"It's Sunday and I'm coming off a foreign trip," Obama joked, before noting that during his meal, he noticed many students were still eating breakfast.

"At 11:30. On a Tuesday. So I’ll offer my first piece of advice early: enjoy it while you still can," Obama said.