Pomp, Circumstance, and the Presidency

Presidential candidates stop at the Dean's Office en route to Oval Office.

ByABC News
April 30, 2007, 4:29 PM

May 4, 2007 — -- It's graduation season and presidential contenders are the stars of the 2007 commencement speaker circuit.

No fewer than three White House wannabes -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; and former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York -- speak to long-suffering college students on Saturday.

Where the presidential candidates choose to don a cap and gown has less to do with higher education and everything to do with seeking higher office.

"Commencement speeches are great venues for the presidential candidates," said Paul Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University. "They often speak to a large number of people and it's not perceived as partisan."

While their speeches may be nonpartisan, their choice of venue is often a matter of electoral strategy.

On Saturday, Clinton hits Ohio, the swing state that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lost in 2004.

She delivers the commencement speech to Wilberforce University in Fairborn -- a small school with a strong history as the nation's oldest private black university.

"Her presence there is of great symbolic value to her campaign," Beck said.

He argues Clinton's attempt to reach out to blacks is a political strategy to manage the popularity of Democratic '08 rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"She is obviously locked in a contest with a very attractive African-American candidate who is pulling increasing support from that particular constituency, an important constituency in the Democratic nomination process," Beck said.

"By going there she is showing her affinity and her support for African-Americans and also doing it in a way that kind of reaches back to this very historic tradition that Wilberforce has," he said.

Clinton will also deliver a second commencement speech to another historically African-American, private institution -- Claflin University on May 12. Claflin is in Orangeburg, South Carolina, a key southern primary state.

During this graduation season, Clinton may have an advantage over her rivals. She can dispatch a proxy speaker: her husband.