Politics Dons a Cap and Gown

BY Katelyn Polantz  May 17, 2012 at 5:40 PM EST

Video shot and edited by Katelyn Polantz

The NewsHour logged 600 miles last weekend to witness dueling graduation speeches from first lady Michelle Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Both chose to speak at schools in Virginia, a key swing state this year. About 30,000 people attended each of the ceremonies.

We wanted to size up the political talking points pumped into the speeches, and ask what graduates and their parents had hoped to hear. How crucial are these speeches in an election year when every word matters?

It’s not surprising we found a divide in the speakers’ approaches and in audience members’ responses. Romney spoke at Liberty University, while Mrs. Obama spoke at Virginia Tech, the state land-grant university that also welcomed Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., to commencement.

What we couldn’t show on camera were the many parents and graduates at Virginia Tech, in particular, who wished to avoid talking about politics that day. Instead, they said, they’d prefer to focus on the celebration.

That seems to be how the ceremonies played out nationally, too. Few national media covered Virginia Tech’s commencement, and the Democrats’ words found little play across the Internet. Romney’s speech lit up Christian conservatives and political commentators as a defining moment of his 2012 campaign.

You can watch Romney’s full speech at Liberty here:

The following Monday, President Barack Obama addressed graduates at Barnard College in New York City, and took a different tone altogether. You can watch that below.