Governors to Graduates: Dream Big and Vote for Me

By: - June 19, 2006 12:00 am

You know commencement season has morphed into election season when Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) flies to Coe College in Iowa, the state that kicks off the next presidential campaign with caucuses in January 2008, to urge graduates to “get out of the shallow waters of selfishness” and “launch yourself into the deep waters of great causes.”

Or when Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) criticizes President Bush’s foreign policy by telling Grinnell College graduates in his home state that “America’s security … has been compromised by our effort in Iraq.”

And then there’s New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who scored a political hat trick on the commencement circuit, speaking at Des Moines University, his sixth trip to Iowa; New England College in New Hampshire, America’s first-in-the-nation primary state; and Columbia University Law School in electoral vote-rich New York, where daughter Emily was among the graduates.

“Congratulations to my fellow parents of the class of 2006,” Pataki said. “Think about it this way: You’ll never have to make another tuition payment for this child again.”

Of course, not all the chief executives who hit the commencement trail have their sights on the White House in two years. Most of the 25 governors – 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans, according to a tally – who delivered high school and college commencement addresses in May and June probably harbored no immediate presidential dreams.

Laced among their entreaties for grads to follow their dreams, serve mankind and be true to themselves were personal recollections, heartfelt hopes and self-deprecating acknowledgements of the fleeting fame of commencement speakers.

“I don’t remember anything any of my graduation speakers ever said,” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) told University of Virginia graduates. “In fact, I was the speaker at one of my graduations – my high school graduation – and I can’t even remember what I said.”

 Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) told the students at Crane Union High School he rarely accepts commencement invitations and blamed it on his high school experience, when instead of being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” he was voted “Most Likely to Skip Graduation and Go Fishing.”

“I’ve changed quite a bit since those days,” Kulongoski continued. “First of all, as governor, I can only play hooky if somebody puts it on my schedule – which sort of defeats the purpose.”

 Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) managed to slam Europe while exhorting Indiana University School of Law graduates not to use their new profession to impede growth through excessive litigation and government regulation. “I see only irreversible decline for a Europe where everything from the definition of ‘chocolate’ to the size of condoms, to how long a barmaid is allowed to be out in the sun is now regulated by an overreaching central bureaucracy,” he said.

 New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who has taken fire from his state’s media for ordering his state police drivers to go faster than the speed limit and in one case refusing to stop for an unmarked Albuquerque police car, poked fun at his speed-demon reputation.

“I know that many of you simply know me as the governor that drives too fast … but I’m in a hurry,” Richardson told University of New Mexico graduates. “I believe there are 25 hours in every day, and we must use each minute to the fullest. In fact, I might sign an executive order adding another hour to the day.”

Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Louisiana last summer had survived “the evil twistin’ sisters,” hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and implored Northwestern State University grads in Natchitoches, La., to stay and help rebuild the state.

“If you love this state – and I feel sure you do – you were moved to the core by what happened,” she said. “We have so much at stake. Although we cannot change what happened, we are moving forward.”

 Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) had uplifting words for the state’s newest doctors graduating from the University of Arkansas Medical School: “You’ve been given diseases and death to deal with, but there’s something else. You’ll give healing. There are people out there who will be alive because of you.”

University of Montana graduates gave Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) a standing ovation for a speech centered on this simple message: “You’ve got to make conservation cool.”

 Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) shared with University of Tennessee grads some advice he had received during an elementary school visit last year from “a very important group of people” – first-graders. They had greeted him with a poster listing “Things a Governor Needs to Know.”

Some offerings : A governor must know how to tie his shoes (“I think I have that one covered,” Bredesen quipped); a governor needs to know how to spend a lot of money; a governor must know how to be cool for the girls; and, a recommendation that drew huge laughs from the graduating UT seniors, a governor must know how to not get arrested.

“I would say that one is very important,” Bredesen said.

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