President Barack Obama sought to tap the support of women and young voters in his re-election campaign, as he presented the commencement address at Barnard College in New York on Monday.
Addressing about 600 students graduating from the US women’s college, he spoke about women’s right to work for pay equal to that of male counterparts. He raised such issues as health and birth control.
“As young women, you will grapple with equal pay for equal work, balance the demands of your job and your family and fully control decisions about your own health,” he said.
In her introduction, Debora Spar, Barnard College president, referred to the number of women holding positions in the Obama administration and its wider commitment to equal rights, for example the president’s support for gay marriage voiced last week.
“For women in particular, you have helped to ensure the equal pay we all deserve,” Ms Spar said. On the question of birth control, Mr Obama had, she added, repeatedly supported women’s “right to choose”.
The president joins Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Sheryl Sandberg among previous Barnard commencement speakers. He is scheduled to speak at two more university ceremonies this year.
Speaking after the ceremony, Ms Spar said Mr Obama’s actions, though restricted by partisan wrangling in Washington, would be remembered as significant.
“By putting Hillary Clinton in the job [of secretary of state] she is in where she has really been fighting for women’s rights around the world. I think he will go down in history as doing a lot,” Ms Spar said.
“Hopefully we can start moving past some of the political gridlock and keep working to make sure that women’s reproductive and civil rights are protected.”
The president urged the graduates to become active in political and economic life, noting that just one in three chief executives of Fortune 500 companies and one in five in the US Congress were female.
“Don’t just get involved, fight for your seat at the table, fight for a seat at the head of the table,” he said. “Now that new doors have been opened for you, you have the obligation to seize those opportunities,” he said.
Mitt Romney, Mr Obama’s Republican rival, spoke at the weekend at Liberty University in Virginia. In his commencement address at the university founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, Mr Romney, a Mormon, stressed his allegiance to Christian values.
“Religious liberty is the first freedom in our constitution,” he said.
“And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.”
While in New York, Mr Obama took part in The View, the daily talk show targeted towards women.
He was scheduled to attend two fundraisers for his presidential campaign, one with gay and Latino donors hosted by singer Ricky Martin and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Leadership Council.
The other, a dinner, was at the home of Tony James, president of private equity group Blackstone. Tickets for the event cost $38,500.