White House Figures Go Back For Graduation

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Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and Attorney General Eric Holder all returned to their alma maters to give commencement addresses. And each saw fit to share tales of misdeeds during their college days.


If you happen to be a high-profile member of a new administration, you'll find yourself in hot demand to speak at commencement ceremonies of your alma mater.

BLOCK: I remember how small the campus seemed until it came time to make that late-night walk from the pub back to Lind(ph). I never knew at 2 a.m. how long a walk that could be.


BLOCK: And while there, if you were White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or others, there is a challenge.


While you know, and they know, that you're now an alpha dog and they're merely pups, you are compelled to underplay the differences and make a point of what a goofball you were as a student.

BLOCK: I remember a lot that I cannot share while your parents are here.


BLOCK: But to the parents, I want you to know I made it through FBI clearance. So do not worry about it.


NORRIS: That's Rahm Emanuel today at his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

BLOCK: Now, here's Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month at Syracuse University's commencement.

V: Dean Arterian, dean of my law school, the good news for you is I'm vice president and not one of your students.


NORRIS: Before Biden got around to speaking about his vision of the world - and he did do that - he made sure everyone knew that back in the day, he was just a regular guy.

V: I never had to be told that play was important. It just came natural to me. It came natural to me all the way through law school.

NORRIS: The message there: Hey, I'm a heartbeat away from the presidency. Think of what you can do.

BLOCK: Here's another path from the White House to commencement endearment.

BLOCK: I lived in Carmen Hall my freshman year.


BLOCK: Carmen Hall, Room 301A.


BLOCK: And I have to tell you, when I found out that there's air conditioning in Carmen now, I couldn't believe it. What's next, Mr. President, hot and cold water?

BLOCK: That's United States Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday, at Class Day at Columbia University, his alma mater. He recalled his very first day on that New York City campus.

BLOCK: What could Columbia possibly surprise me with? Then I met my roommate.


BLOCK: He was a very nice guy who was more interested in altering his consciousness on a frequent basis.


BLOCK: More interested in that than in contemporary civilization. Now, as your attorney general, that's all I can say about that.


BLOCK: The pattern holds when you leave the White House, as well. You go back to the school that brung ya.

BLOCK: The commencement speaker at my graduation, Dr. Willis Tate, president of SMU, probably called us to greatness, but I don't remember what he said.

NORRIS: Former First Lady Laura Bush, last weekend at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

BLOCK: I just remember how I felt, relieved that finals were over, excited to embark on the next adventure and most of all, impatient for him to finish. So then I reflected on my graduation with my master's degree, but I couldn't recall who gave that commencement address. That's because I skipped the ceremony. But I did look it up, and you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was some guy named George Bush.


BLOCK: Four years after that speech, I married his son.

NORRIS: Former First Lady Laura Bush, Attorney General Eric Holder, Vice President Joe Biden, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel speaking at graduation ceremonies at their alma maters.


BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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