- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

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.

American flags have been attached to light poles along the streets that lead from the airport to the arena, while other preparation included cleaning, painting and polishing the city of 22,000. More scenes from around the area, as the arena filled up Friday with family and friends of the graduates:


Teresa Tufto, 53, of Dawson, Minnesota, said she couldn’t sleep Thursday night because of the excitement of seeing her son graduate with a diesel technician degree and also seeing the president on the same day. “It’s an honor that he chose Watertown and not an Ivy League school,” she said. Her son, Aaron Tufto, 21, was scheduled to start a job in the oil fields of North Dakota, but postponed it to attend the commencement ceremony.

The presidential speech is adding to the joy of getting a diploma, said Tia Koester, 23, of Murdo. “I’m ecstatic that he’s here. I’m from a small town, and I never thought I would be able to meet the president,” said Koester, who is graduating with a licensed practical nursing degree and plans to work toward a registered nurse degree. “I’m going to scrapbook it and all that jazz,” Koester said of the commencement program.

Jordyn Geerdes, 11, skipped school in Watertown on Friday to attend the speech. “I’ve never really met anyone that’s this big for our country,” she said. “He’s made our country safer and he’s kind of like inspired me a little bit. I really want to see him.”


Rather than visit four other presidents at Mount Rushmore in western South Dakota, Obama opted to give a commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute on the far eastern side of the state. Lake Area is among the nation’s top community colleges, and Obama plans to use his speech to promote his plan for free community or technical college education. “It’s the best school to come and talk about it,” said Terry Dierkson, 35, an automotive technologies instructor at Lake Area.


An 11-year-old girl in Vermillion who was disappointed that Obama waited so long to visit South Dakota sent him a letter saying so - and the White House tweeted it. The girl named Rebecca listed attributes of the state and included a drawing of a broken heart, with the caption “This is my heart because you haven’t visited South Dakota!” The White House tweeted the letter Thursday with the comment, “Rebecca’s heart can officially mend when President Obama visits South Dakota tomorrow.”


A few people opposing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would go through South Dakota as it transports oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, protested outside the arena where Obama was to speak. “We think this is an opportunity to remind the president of the opposition here in South Dakota to Keystone XL,” said Dallas Goldtooth, with the Indigenous Environmental Network. Obama vetoed a bill authorizing the pipeline, but supporters have discussed other ways to force its approval.


South Dakota’s distinction as the last of the 50 states for Obama to visit while in office sparked an idea for one Watertown 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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