'Saving the best for last': Obama visits 50th state as President with South Dakota stop

Obama greets the nation
Obama greets the nation


    Obama greets the nation


Obama greets the nation 01:13

Watertown, South Dakota (CNN)When President Barack Obama landed in South Dakota on Friday, he did more than give the commencement address at a community college -- he finally reached all 50 states during his presidency.

"He's saving the best for last," James Hagen, South Dakota's secretary of tourism, said before his visit.
If that statement isn't etched in stone around here, it's at least silkscreened. You can buy a T-shirt with those words printed next to a presidential headshot at Young's Prime Time Sports in Watertown, where Air Force One was set to land at 3:30 p.m.
Gary Young poses in the T-shirts he's been printing to commemorate President Barack Obama's visit to Watertown, South Dakota on May 8, 2015.
"We're mailing (the shirts) to people wanting them from all over South Dakota," store owner Gary Young told CNN. "We printed 330 last night and we'll probably print another 90 today."
    The trip came after much speculation about whether the President would even attempt to come to South Dakota, which voted to oust Obama in 2012 and has one of the lowest approval ratings of him in the country. Hagen didn't care, though, when he wrote the President urging him to come.
    "We were honored that your wife and two daughters made a trip to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial last year," Hagen wrote. "And now it's your turn."
    More than two years after he sent that letter, Hagen finally got his wish -- albeit for 135 minutes. The President gave the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown before departing for Washington. Hagen says he's happy, but isn't finished pursuing Obama before the end of his term.
    "2016 is the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mount Rushmore," Hagen tells CNN. "It would be fun for him to see what I consider one of the most iconic symbols of democracy."
    Obama visited Mount Rushmore in 2008 as a senator when, on the campaign trail, he was asked if he'd like to see himself up there someday. "I don't think my ears would fit," he joked.
    The President didn't choose Watertown simply to complete his national tour. Instead, he used the address to highlight his plan to make two years of community college free to students "who keep their grades up," the White House says. Lake Area Technical Institute boasts one of the highest community college graduation rates in the nation.
    "All of us are better off when entrepreneurs can boost their hometown economies," Obama said Friday. "That's why I came here today, to this little tiny school in this tiny town. I didn't come here to inspire you. I came here because you, the graduates, inspire me."
    "Welcome Mr. President" is affixed to just about every marquee on the President's expected route to the commencement, and in that motorcade was Watertown Mayor Steve Thorson, who asked the White House if he could greet the President.
    "They said yes, and I thought, well I'm going to go for this," Thorson told CNN prior to Obama's trip. "I said 'What's the chance of riding in the motorcade?' and they called back and said the Secret Service would whisk me into one of the cars (after greeting the President)."
    "It's unimaginable," he said. "I think this is the biggest day ever for the city of Watertown."