RICHMOND, Ky. -- 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 education, business and technology graduates at the third and final commencement ceremony of the day. "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."
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Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison, was the first First Lady to formally associate herself with a cause, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=4" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org</a>. Madison helped found an orphanage for young girls in Washington, D.C., and maintained a lifelong connection to the organization.
Although she was the niece of bachelor President James Buchanan and not his wife, Harriet Lane was nevertheless considered the First Lady of the Buchanan White House, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=16" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org.</a> But, similar to other benevolent wives of our presidents, Harriet committed herself to two underserved populations that needed help -- Native Americans and children.
Ellen Axson Wilson
Ellen Axson Wilson, the first wife of Woodrow Wilson, died young, but made a big impact during her short life, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=28" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org</a>. She joined a campaign to get rid of the slums in the Washington, D.C. area, and advocated for improved housing and child labor laws.
When President Warren Harding was first elected to the U.S. Senate, his wife began advocating for the rights of returning World War I veterans. <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=30" target="_hplink">According to Firstladies.org</a>, Florence Harding launched the "Lest We Forget" Week to encourage donations of books and clothing to returning soldiers. She was also known to pick up wounded veterans on the street who needed a ride.
First Lady Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, had always been interested in education -- especially for the deaf. During her husband's presidency, Grace became a trustee for the Clarke School for the Deaf, and was also involved with the American Red Cross during World War I, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=31" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org</a>.
Lou Henry Hoover
Before becoming First Lady, Lou Henry Hoover worked as an organizer for the American Red Cross' Canteen Escort Service, which transported wounded soldiers home during World War I. Her support for the troops was honored by King Albert I of Belgium, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=32" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org</a>.
During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt supported the troops by volunteering with the American Red Cross, where she handed out cups of coffee, newspapers, sandwiches, candy, and cigarettes to soldiers heading out to army camps and ports, according to the <a href="http://www.redcross.org/museum/history/eleanorR.asp" target="_hplink">American Red Cross.</a> "I loved it," the organization quoted her having said. "I simply ate it up."
After her son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, First Lady Barbara Bush began championing the cause when she founded the <a href="http://www.barbarabushfoundation.com/site/c.jhLSK2PALmF/b.4344531/k.BD31/Home.htm" target="_hplink">Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy</a>, according to <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=42" target="_hplink">Firstladies.org</a>.
While serving as First Lady, now Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led the effort on the Foster Care Independence Bill, which helped older unadopted kids transition successfully into adulthood, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=43" target="_hplink">according to Firstladies.org</a>.
Still enjoying her role as First Lady to President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama has been vocal about three issues during her husband's administration: Helping working mothers, providing support to military families, and encouraging voluntarism, <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=45" target="_hplink">according to firstladies.org</a>.