Obama made three key points, all in a light-hearted vein typical for a college graduation speech, but with an emphasis on the ladies, as relevant to his audience. ABC's Devin Dwyer sums up three key pieces of Obama's advice:
“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”
“Never underestimate the power of your example.”
”Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy.”
Expounding on these three points, Obama reminded the graduates that they should be role models and bold activists, that they can be stylish and powerful, and that others before them have done it, too—like Michelle Obama, and his own mom, a single parent, women who kept striving for their goals and dreams despite setbacks. Obama also drew attention to the realities of the job market, currently harsh for both men and women graduating, acknowledging that "in many ways you have it even tougher than we did," but telling the graduates they they're tougher, too, than those who came before. The speech is part tough love and facing facts—but with plenty of pro-woman empowerment language. For example, Obama says, "Of course, as young women, you’re also going to grapple with some unique challenges, like whether you’ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work; whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job and your family; whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health." Obama gets adorable dad points for invoking Sasha and Malia, the thought of whose graduation he says brings him to tears, and cements his female-friendly status by referring to powerful ladies (and former commencement speakers) Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, and Meryl Streep. And extra credit for this: "We know we are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life—whether it’s the salary you earn or the health decisions you make," he says. The Obama campaign has made it a point to put women at the forefront, and Obama does it well in this speech.
In comparison, former GE "master and commander" Jack Welch told women in 2009 that "there's no such thing as work-life balance," and that taking time off for family "can offer a nice life" but probably means you're killing your chances at getting to the top of your career. More recently, he told women to "over deliver," and that "performance is it!" These soundbites are not all that different from what Obama said: Persevere, fight for your seat at the table, and the like...but they do seem to indicate a boys-club mentality that Obama is free from. (If Obama had said, "fight harder than the boys for your seat at the table," that would be different). Further, Welch knocks diversity and mentorship programs as nice, maybe, but "not how women get ahead." But with his talk of examples and activism, it would seem that Obama would firmly support such programs.