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Obama Delivers Commencement Speech At Barnard College, Attends Chelsea Fundraiser

Graduates Marvel, Then Say Thanks For Not Exploiting Same-Sex Marriage Issue
President Barack Obama waves as he arrives for commencement ceremonies at Barnard College May 14, 2012 in New York. (credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/GettyImages)

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives for commencement ceremonies at Barnard College May 14, 2012 in New York. (credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/GettyImages)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – President Barack Obama made the round in Manhattan on Monday for his first visit to the area since he voiced his support for same-sex marriage last week.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell On The Story

Obama delivered a commencement speech at Barnard College. Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom To Marry, was also being honored at the commencement ceremony.

“It’s up to you to stand up,” Obama said. “Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right. They may be waiting on you.”

Both were booked well before Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage. The president had requested the commencement speech at Barnard College months ago in an effort to court the female vote.

“I’ve seen a generation eager to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course,” Obama said. “That defiant, can-do spirit is what runs through the veins of American history and it is that spirit which we need your generation to embrace and rekindle right now.”

“We know that are challenges are imminently solvable, the question is whether together we can muster the will in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics to bring about the changes we need,” Obama said.

“In part, it is simple math. Today women are not just half this country, you’re half its work-force,” Obama said. “More and more women are out-earning their husbands; you’re more than half of our college graduates and masters graduates and PHDs. So you’ve got us outnumbered.”

It’s clear the president made quite the impression on the school’s 594 graduates.

“It was really inspiring. He gave us pretty good advice, just to persevere and be at the head of the table,” graduate Daliva Poulouse told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.

“I think he was realistic. It’s a tough market, but we have been very fortunate to be at this great university, many of us are lucky. I think none of us are gonna give up,” graduate Rachel Lewis added.

However, graduates also said they were happy Obama basically steered clear off the hot-button, same-sex marriage issues during his remarks.

“I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t using us as a soapbox. In a way, if he brought up gay marriage, it would have seemed very ‘convenient’ to say the least,” graduate Colette McIntyre told CBS 2’s Aiello.

Obama also attended a couple of fundraisers Monday evening, including one in Chelsea sponsored by the LGBT Leadership Council. The event was hosted by singer Ricky Martin.

It’s the president’s first trip to New York since clarifying his views on the controversial issue — just six months before the election.

Newsweek Magazine’s May 21 cover, which is generating a lot of buzz, features Obama with a rainbow halo on the cover with the headline “The First Gay President.”

With his statement last week, Obama became the first sitting president in U.S. history to officially announce his support for same-sex marriage.

While he’s faced harsh criticism,  Obama has also been embraced by many — including Mayor Michael Bloomberg — for taking a stance.

Bloomberg spoke at a graduation at UNC Chapel Hill over the weekend, blasting North Carolina for passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“I would argue last week’s referendum banning same-sex marriage shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people,” Bloomberg said.

On Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reiterated his own position on same-sex marriage, bringing the crowds to their feet at a commencement speech at Liberty University — the nation’s largest Evangelical university.

“Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” Romney said.

While the candidates — and even the voters — are talking about it now, Republican party leaders say they don’t expect same-sex marriage to become the main campaign issue.

“For those people that this is their issue, they have a clear choice. But I happen to believe that, at the end of the day, however, this election is still going to be about the economy,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.

Whether the issue will be a defining one for the presidential election remains to be seen.

“There’s a lot of other stuff people are worried about,” Morningside Heights resident Kate Davidson said.

“Its ridiculous, the issues come out before election time just to get votes,” Freehold, N.J. resident Gina Rodolico said.

A CBS/New York Times poll shows 38 percent of those surveyed support same-sex marriage, 33 percent are against it and 24 percent support civil unions.

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