Senators Take Messages on the Graduation Circuit

Posted May 25, 2005 at 5:05pm

This past Saturday, President Bush traveled to western Michigan to deliver the commencement address before 900 graduates at Calvin College. But Bush isn’t the only politician to hit the commencement circuit this season, as a host of Members of Congress viewed as potential 2008 presidential candidates have already taken to the podium before eager graduates and proud parents.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was in Charleston, S.C., last Friday to speak to graduates of the Medical University of South Carolina. Frist, a former heart surgeon, told the crowd that HIV/AIDS, malaria and intestinal parasites are responsible for millions of deaths around the world. Doctors, he said, can use their talents to ease such suffering. “Just as we unleash the power of freedom around the world, so too must we unleash the power of medicine and the caring, compassion and healing that comes with it,” Frist said, according to The Associated Press.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) May 14 speech at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., was one of five such addresses that the former first lady has on her schedule this season. She has already spoken at graduation ceremonies at Paul Smith’s College in Paul Smith, N.Y., Marymount Manhattan College in New York and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. She is scheduled to speak at the graduation of City University of New York Honors College on May 31.

During the ceremony, Clinton told the 200 graduates of the all-women’s liberal arts college that, “there has never been a time in human history when it has been better to be a young woman alive and living in America,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) has also been busy this graduation spring, having already delivered commencement addresses at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., and the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz. He is scheduled to speak at graduation ceremonies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., as well.

In his Oklahoma speech, McCain supported American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq and challenged graduates to defend human rights. After recalling horrific acts of violence from the Holocaust to the mass killings in the Sudan, McCain told the crowd, “Today we know what is happening and the world must not stand by and do nothing,” The Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat reported.

In his May 7 speech at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) urged graduates help foster scientific innovation. “I am encouraging you all as young, influential leaders, to encourage our young people to be interested in math and science at early ages,” Allen said. “It truly is vital to the future security and opportunity of our country.”

Allen had spoken at commencement activities at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., a week earlier.

Speaking this past Sunday at the graduation ceremony for Boston University’s Medical School, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that rising malpractice premiums, large numbers of uninsured Americans and the aggravations of dealing with HMOs are but a handful of the challenges facing the medical community today. “We have the best health care in the world,” Kerry said. “But ironically the system in which it’s delivered is increasingly coming apart.”

Additionally, Kerry told the audience that ideology should never prevent doctors from continuing to push the limits of scientific discovery, especially in areas such as stem-cell research. “Imagine you spend the next decade developing the next procedure promising to save thousands of lives and all of the sudden it’s taken away, not by the FDA, but by ideologues,” Kerry said.

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden (D) was also in Boston this past Sunday, addressing graduates from Suffolk University Law School. After recalling his own law school experiences, Biden said that today’s politically polarized, ideologically divided American society is facing a number of threats at home and abroad, ranging from the out-sourcing of jobs to a troubled public education system.

But despite such challenges, Biden told the audience that he was not discouraged about the future of the country. “I confess to remaining an optimist,” Biden said. “It comes from the reality, the grit of people like you and what you are made of.”

In early May, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) spoke at York Community College in York, Neb., and at the McCook and North Platte Campuses of Mid Plains Community College in Nebraska. And just this past weekend, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) took to the podium for the ceremony at the University of Virginia Law School in Charlottesville, Va.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) hit the commencement circuit as well, speaking at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Mich. Also making the rounds are former Vice President Al Gore, who will speak this weekend at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, and former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark, who appeared at Lyon College in Batesville, Ark., and Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., and will speak at Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., on May 28.