President Barack Obama offered graduates at Barnard College some words of wisdom and praise Monday as he delivered the commencement address during his latest trip to the city.
Speaking to the all-female school in Morningside Heights Monday afternoon, the president hailed the graduates for their accomplishments as they enter a still challenging economy.
He said the country has made great strides in opening up doors and leveling the playing field for women over the last few decades and also noted their growing influence in business and government.
Obama also told the 596 grads gathered that they should not only fight to be at the table in their professional lives, but to be at the head of the table.
"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 of the destiny of this nation and this world," Obama said.
Nevertheless, women are more than half of the students at universities but are far less likely to hold positions of power in the workplace.
The president had several other suggestions for the rapt crowd.
"My first piece of advice is this: don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table," said Obama. "Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure, sometimes catastrophic failures, but they keep at it."
Obama said he learned those tough lessons when he transferred from Occidental College in California to Columbia University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1983.
"It was here that I tried to find my place in this world. I knew I wanted to make a difference, but it was vague how in fact I’d go about it," said Obama.
He said he tried different things, but he never gave up.
"I got it from watching the people who raised me. More specifically, I got it from watching the women who shaped my life," said Obama.
Barnard graduates who went through extra security to attend the speech mostly said that the president's speech struck a good balance between personal advice and commentary on larger political issues.
There was no direct mention of the upcoming election, but one could read between the political lines, especially in the venue.
The president wants to maintain what polls show is a commanding lead with women over his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
Following the commencement, Obama headed downtown for two Manhattan campaign fundraisers.
The president spoke at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea for a $5,000-a-ticket fundraiser co-hosted by the LGBT Leadership Council and openly gay singer Ricky Martin.
Obama also attended a private, $35,800-a-plate fundraising dinner featuring the cooking of Manhattan chef Vikas Khanna before heading back to the White House.
He also taped his fourth interview on the TV show "The View," which is his second appearance as president.
Meantime, the Obama campaign has launched a hard-hitting video criticizing Mitt Romney's record as a businessman.
The six-minute video chronicles the story of GST Steel, a Kansas City company that closed after it was purchased and restructured by Romney's firm Bain Capital.
It targets the Republican's business background and economic philosophies when he ran the private equity firm.
It also includes interviews with former employees of GST who claim Bain Capital loaded it with debt and profited from it's closure.
Romney has repeatedly touted his time at Bain as proof that he has substantial experience taking over troubled companies and making them profitable and often created jobs in the process.