Obama gets easy, enthusiastic applause talking about women’s leadership at Barnard

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Obama's commencement speech. ()
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At Barnard College this afternoon, President Obama delivered a women-themed version of his stump speech to a rambunctious graduating class.

The president's speech came less than a week after he endorsed same-sex marriage. He was introduced after gay-rights advocate Evan Wolfson drew loud cheers as "a hero of the charge for marriage equality" and "a champion of the cause for civil rights for all."

Dressed in a light blue robe, Obama began with the "hard truth" that he had attended Columbia College

"I know there can be something of a sibling rivalry here," he said.

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Cheering wildly before he even took the stage, the crowd treated Obama like the undiminished star he was during the 2008 campaign.

When he mentioned the moonwalk in a riff about his own college days, the crowd egged him on.

"No moonwalking, no moonwalking today," he said, laughing.

Obama said the school had "set a high bar" for commencement speakers, and the crowd erupted when he mentioned Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the school in 2009.

The president also dropped the names of a few women senators, including Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski and the retiring Maine Republican Olympia Snowe.

Obama's speech focused on many of the recurring themes from his usual campaign addresses, but with a distinct emphasis on the challenges facing women. He alluded several times to the need for women to earn equal pay for equal work, which has been a central plank of the Democrats' argument to women.

(His campaign frequently mentions that the first bill he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.)

"I believe the women of this generation, that all of you, will help lead the way," he said, prompting applause.

"I recognize that's a cheap applause line when you're giving a commencement at Barnard," he said, in response. "That's the easy thing to say. But it's true!"

There were a few subtle nods to other news. 

"We know that we are better off when there are rules that keep big banks from making bets with people's money," he said, in what might have been a reference to the news last week that J.P. Morgan had lost $2 billion in some risky bets.

And he told a story about his own post-Columbia years, when he was recruited to become a community organizer in Chicago, in an area where "steel mills that were shutting down."

Earlier today, the president's re-election campaign launched a new ad campaign attacking Mitt Romney for his role in closing a steel mill in Kansas City.

The president didn't explicitly mention his newfound support for same-sex marriage, but talked generally about the past generations who stood up, from "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall," and drew loud applause when he mentioned "gay rights" in a litany of American social progress.

"That's how we achieved women's rights, that's how we achieved voting rights, that's how we achieved workers' rights, that's how we achieved gay rights, that's how we made this union more perfect," he said.

After the speech, the graduates chanted "O-ba-ma! O-ba-a!"

After the president left the stage, Barnard president Debora Spar said, "Everybody can now take a deep breath."