Opinion: How to get Michelle Obama to your commencement? Try love bombing. It worked for UC Merced.


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What woman doesn’t want to be wooed?

When the first graduating class at the University of California’s newest campus, in Merced, decided in January that they’d like to have a very special speaker for their very first commencement, they set their sights high and then behaved like love-struck suitors.

They called their campaign ‘Dear Michelle.’

First, they set up a table in the middle of campus and got 900 students, teachers and staffers to sign Valentines for First Lady Michelle Obama asking her to consider coming to Merced to be their speaker.


They launched a ‘Dear Michelle’ page on Facebook and linked to a template for a letter.

And then they came up with an idea for the most persuasive billet doux of all: a video expressing their admiration for her. It’s called ‘We Believe,’ and on it, students say ‘Dear Michelle, We believe in you, and we would be honored if you would be our keynote speaker at the May 16, 2009, Commencement Ceremony of the UC Merced Inaugural Class.’

Cheesy? Maybe. But it worked.

On Saturday, Mrs. Obama, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, will be giving her maiden commencement address as first lady to the first graduating class of UC Merced. She could have chosen just about any university in the country, but she clearly has a heart for the underdog. Or, in the case of UC Merced, the Bobcats.

And while hosting a first lady might not make a college in Berkeley or Boston or Chicago swoon, it’s hard to overstate the boost her appearance will give to little Merced, where the economic woes of the rest of the state are felt more deeply.

‘For the campus, for the city of Merced, for the region, this is one of the most positive things that has happened in a long time,’ said UC Merced spokeswoman PattiWaig Istas.

Our colleague Larry Gordon wrote the other day about the impact Obama’s visit is having on the place. Indeed UC Merced, with only 2,700 students and tucked into a remote corner of the San Joaquin Valley, never even got a visit from a candidate or a high-profile surrogate during last year’s presidential campaign. (And remember, the Democrats fought it out on college campuses all over next-to-no-population Wyoming!)

We predict, having spent some time on the campaign trail with Michelle Obama and following her speeches as first lady, that she will emphasize the importance of service, and perhaps make a joke or two about the burdens of student loans, which she and her husband struggled with until he wrote a best-selling memoir.

We know that her husband was able to joke last night about a little ruckus at Arizona State University, where he delivered the commencement speech. The school opted not to award him an honorary degree since he had yet to produce a ‘body of work.’ Officials apologized, but they stuck to their guns and created a scholarship in his name.

The president, to his credit, said he agreed that he has not achieved enough in his life. And Michelle, he added, agrees and has a list of things for him to do when he gets home. Good stuff comes at 2:40.

-- Robin Abcarian