May 14th, 2012
04:39 PM ET
In a speech tailored to target issues close to the hearts of a key voter demographic- women, President Barack Obama Monday encouraged the 2012 graduating class at the all-female Barnard College in New York to shape their destiny.
"After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world," Mr. Obama said in his first commencement address of the season.
"Don't just get involved, fight for your seat at the table," he told the 600 graduates. "Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."
Less than a week after declaring his support for same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama touched only briefly on the hot button issue.
“If you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way,” the president told the graduates.
Mr. Obama received the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Among the other recipients of the medal Monday was gay rights advocate Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. Wolfson had been outspoken in urging the president to endorse marriage equality.
The president spoke before a welcoming audience as some students chanted "Yes we can," as he took the stage according to a pool report.
Barnard is the sister school to the president's alma mater, Columbia University.
Mr. Obama acknowledged a still struggling economy facing today's graduates saying, "This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper. Politics seems nastier. Congress more gridlocked than ever."
He also noted what he called "unique challenges" to women in this economy like equal pay for equal work and balancing work and family.
And he delivered a swipe to Wall Street saying, "Some folks in the financial world have not exactly been model corporate citizens."
But he then struck a note of optimism counseling, "as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I've seen your passion and I've seen your service."
"And that defiant, can-do spirit is what runs through the veins of American history. It's the lifeblood of all our progress. And it is that spirit which we need your generation to embrace and rekindle right now," he said.