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Michelle Obama to grads: Focus on what unites us

Reaching across the aisle can be helpful not only in politics but also in the personal growth of recent college graduates, first lady Michelle Obama said in a commencement address at Eastern Kentucky University over the weekend.

“If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground; maybe you won’t,” she said to about 600 graduating seniors on Saturday.

“We know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do," she added. "We just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose.”

Michelle Obama was just one of hundreds of commencement speakers imparting their wisdom to college graduates this month. Over the weekend, the first lady, former President Bill Clinton and NBC News’ Tom Brokaw highlighted the speakers circuit with a common theme: Focus on the things that unite us, not divide us.

"You can either choose to use those opportunities to continue fighting the fights that we’ve been locked in for decades, or you can choose to reject those old divisions and embrace folks with a different point of view," Michelle Obama said.  "And if you do that, the latter, who knows where it might take you -- more importantly, where it might take our country."

Since her husband's 2008 election, Michelle Obama has had a front row seat to experience the gridlock that partisanship has caused in the federal government. Like the first lady, Brokaw urged graduates of Loyola University in New Orleans to focus on the "common pursuit of the goals that we all have, not small ideas that divide us."

"You are prepared to do all that to make us better,” he told the Class of 2013.

Brokaw also told the graduates that the next 100 years will be known as the century where women will fully be viewed as equals to their male counterparts.

“The 21st century will be remembered, I can assure you now, even though it’s a long way from being over, it will be remembered as the century when women finally took their rightful and fully recognized place in society here and around the world,” he said to thunderous applause.

Clinton told Howard University graduates that they are part of a small minority of the world's population that has the privilege of choosing how they want to earn a living. His advice: Do what makes you happy.

"Most people are happiest doing what they are best at. You have been given that gift," he said.

 Below are some excerpts from their speeches:

Tom Brokaw

Address to Loyola University in New Orleans on May 11.

 

“Leave here today determined to be the generation of big ideas that unite us in the common pursuit of the goals that we all have, not small ideas that divide us. Adopt the mantra of the generation that gave you all those apps, the instruments and the capacity that so change your life. In Silicon Valley they wake up every morning saying, ‘How can we be disruptive? How can we challenge convention and make life a better place? You are prepared to do all that to make us better.”

 

Former President Bill Clinton

Address to Howard University on May 11.

 

“Even with the employment situation and the economic challenges, virtually all of you have the power to choose what you will do to earn a living. It may seem self-evident, but most people who have ever lived, including hundreds of millions even billions on the face of the Earth today, never had that choice.

"… You have a choice. The only bit of personal advice I have is this: Try to do something that will make you happy. And most people are happiest doing what they are best at. You have been given that gift."