Published: March 3, 2012
President Obama will deliver this year’s commencement address at Barnard College, officials at the college and the White House announced on Saturday.
Word of Mr. Obama’s appearance at Barnard, a 123-year-old women’s college in New York City, comes as the White House and Democrats have seized on Republican attempts to block a requirement for contraception coverage in the new health care law, saying it amounts to a “war on women.”
Democrats believe the issue could be an effective rallying point with women voters in a presidential election year, and the decision to appear at the prestigious women’s school could provide a high-profile forum for the president on that front.
An Obama administration official confirmed on Friday that the White House had called Barnard to offer the president as the commencement speaker.
Debora L. Spar, the president of Barnard, said she was thrilled that the president would deliver the keynote speech at the commencement on May 14.
“This is just an extraordinary opportunity for the college, a moment in time that will be unforgettable for the graduates and their parents,” Ms. Spar said in an interview on Friday.
In its announcement, the college said Mr. Obama, a 1983 graduate of Columbia University, would be awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the college’s highest honor, at the commencement. Barnard is an independent liberal arts college for women; it is one of the four undergraduate schools of Columbia and enrolls about 2,400 students.
A month ago, Barnard College announced that Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, would be its graduation speaker, but those plans changed with the call from the White House. Ms. Spar said that Ms. Abramson had said she would be happy to speak at Barnard in the future.
The college’s last three commencement speakers were Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, the actress Meryl Streep and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Historically, some politicians in the middle of a presidential campaign have been less than deft in finding the right tone for addressing the graduates of women’s colleges. In 1955, Adlai E. Stevenson gave the commencement speech at Smith College, telling the women that their job should be to influence “man and boy” through the “humble role of housewife.”
“It just went down as one of those bad moments,” Ms. Spar said.