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Commence With the Advice

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama delivered remarks at Barnard College in New York and couldn’t resist testing out some campaign themes.

Of course, such innocuous-sounding messages are delivered with intent — in effect, “I’m not going to make an obvious political pitch today, but the subtext of what I’m saying is that I’m the kind of person you should support because I’m civil and virtuous and patriotic.”

Snowe gave her last commencement address as a sitting Senator — she is retiring at the end of this Congress — to graduates of the University of Southern Maine. She charged graduates with voting for leaders who seek compromise and eschew ideological purity — in other words, she asked them to vote for people like her.

“The political polarization can be diminished over the long term,” Snowe told the graduates. “However, that change will only occur when Americans support and vote for individuals who will follow the principles of consensus-building.” 

Another popular and timeless message for graduation day is persevering in the face of adversity.

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) told graduates of the University of South Alabama to keep trying, even when failures come their way. 

“Don’t be afraid to take risks; don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Bonner told graduates. “The key is to learn from them, and to grow stronger and smarter from those failures.”

Know Your Audience

Sometimes, the nature of the audience can give a politician a bit more license to expound on the issues of the day.

When Romney spoke at Liberty, which bills itself as “the largest Christian university in the world,” he delivered the usual ration of feel-goodism. But he also tackled the relationship between culture and economics, and the even touchier subject of same-sex marriage.

“For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2 percent. But, if those things are absent, 76 percent will be poor. Culture matters,” Romney said. “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) added an audience-specific flavor to the routine exhortation to get involved in political life when she spoke to the graduates of Regent University, a Christian school in Virginia Beach, Va.

“As believers, we cannot shy away from political problems, and we shouldn’t,” Bachmann said. “There’s a move to tell Christians to get out of politics. Don’t listen to it.”

Kucinich, speaking in the Middle East, was also not shy about making the case for some of his pet political causes.

“We are constantly being told that there is nothing we can do about war, nothing we can do about global climate change, nothing we can do about poverty,” he said. “Those who accept the self-fulfilling prophecies of doom may have a stake in the status quo or, fearing a new order, delay change.”

Speaking at a women’s college, Obama couldn’t resist testing out some campaign themes.

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