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Obama’s Three Pieces of Advice for Barnard Grads

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) -- President Obama on Monday delivered his first commencement address of the year at Barnard College in New York City, offering three pieces of advice for the fawning crowd of women graduates who are part of a key constituency for his re-election campaign:

  • “Don't just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table.  Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

Obama encouraged the young women to be bold activists -- leaders and organizers -- for causes of social justice.  “It's up to you to stand up and to be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote,” he said.

  • “Never underestimate the power of your example.”

Urging grads to ignore a “pop culture obsession over beauty and fashion,” Obama said the Class of 2012 must become role models for future generations of women who are needed in key professions like science and technology.

“You can be stylish and powerful too,” Obama said. “That's Michelle's advice.”

  • “Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy.”

Obama invoked the story of his mother and the mother of Michelle Obama to covey the importance of keeping at it, even when faced with daunting setbacks as his parents had. “No one of achievement has avoided failure, sometimes catastrophic failures, but they keep at it,” he said. “They learn from mistakes.  They don't quit.”  

The advice – aimed clearly at mobilizing and energizing young women voters -- comes at a time when fresh graduates face a gloomy job market, high unemployment and mounting student debt. Obama acknowledged those facts, which Republicans had underscored ahead of the address, as similar to what he faced as a young graduate in 1983.

“In many ways you have it even tougher than we did,” Obama said. “This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper, politics seems nastier, Congress more gridlocked than ever.”

But, he seemed to ask the crowd to suspend any belief in the idea that their difficult personal economic situations can’t be overcome or that he could be to blame.

“My job today is to tell you don't believe it, because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher,” he said.

“The question is not whether things will get better. They always do.  The question is not whether we've got the solutions to our challenges.  We've had them within our grasp for quite some time. ...The question is whether together we can muster the will in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics to bring about the changes we need.”

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