First lady Michelle Obama, left, delivers a commencement speech at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., May 11, as Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, right, and university president Dr. Charles D. Whitlock look on. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
by Bruce Schreiner
RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama urged Eastern Kentucky University graduates on Saturday night to reach out to people with different political beliefs, saying the country would benefit from the conversations.
“If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican,” Mrs. Obama told about 600 graduates in caps and gowns. “And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t.”
The first lady suggested that they visit senior centers to benefit from the experiences of people with plenty of “life experience under their belts.” She also pointed them to religious congregations different than their own, saying they might hear something in a sermon “that stays with you.” And she predicted they would learn something if they reached out “with an open mind and an open heart.”
“And goodness knows, we need more of that,” she said. “Because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do. We just get stuck in our ways.”
The first lady received thunderous applause from several thousand people attending the ceremony in a state that voted overwhelmingly against her husband, President Barack Obama, in his two successful runs for the White House.
She exhorted the graduates to apply the same resilience and work ethic they showed in school to their lives beyond campus to cope with life’s ups-and-downs.
“How are you going to respond when you don’t get that job you had your heart set on?” she said.
To the soon-to-be teachers in the crowd, she urged fortitude when their students don’t respond to their lessons — and urged the same fortitude for the business students when their bosses pile work on them.
Those are the times that will “force you to claw and scratch and fight” to endure, she said.
The White House said the first lady was drawn to EKU as part of her initiative to support veterans and military families. EKU has gained national recognition for its efforts to help veterans advance their education, including its Veterans Success Center, which provides one-stop-assistance for advising, counseling and job placement services.
A campus group took potshots at Obama administration policies ahead of Mrs. Obama’s visit, handing out fliers bemoaning the challenging job prospects for the new graduates.
“Good luck landing your first job,” said the flier from the EKU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. “Only 47 percent of you will be able to find a job in your preferred field, so I hope you’re still on good terms with your parents.”