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First Ladies Extol Role of Women in Contemporary Society

June 2, 1990

WELLESLEY, Mass. (AP) _ Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev gave the graduating women of Wellesley College some first-lady advice Friday and then rejoiced in their newfound friendship.

″I simply feel very at home and comfortable with Mrs. Gorbachev and I have enormous respect for her,″ Mrs. Bush told reporters as the pair toured Boston after sharing the commencement platform.

Said Mrs. Gorbachev: ″I particularly rejoice at the fact that our conversations are extremely open, sincere and friendly. And despite the fact that we might have differences, that does not change the tone.″

These were words that had not publicly passed between Mrs. Gorbachev and Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Bush’s predecessor.

At Wellesley’s graduation ceremonies, Mrs. Bush disarmed critics who had argued that she was not a suitable role model for women in the ’90s.

″I never dreamed it would be this much fun,″ the American first lady said.

The crowd cheered, ″Barbara, Barbara, Barbara″ as Mrs. Bush spoke unabashedly about her homemaker’s life, while urging the graduates to pursue professional careers if that was their goal.

″They were nice,″ Mrs. Bush said of the students Friday night.

The first lady credited Mrs. Gorbachev with the reception the two got, calling her ″my secret weapon.″

″She’s wonderful,″ Mrs. Bush said as she returned to the White House following a dinner at the Soviet Embassy.

Asked how she and Mrs. Gorbachev hit it off, Mrs. Bush replied ″very well.″

Sounding some of the themes that Mrs. Bush hit, Mrs. Gorbachev - a professional women herself - spoke of ″the values that bring us together,″ including love of country and children.

Mrs. Bush, who dropped out of college to marry George Bush as World War II raged a continent away, wore a black academic robe with a purple cowl. Mrs. Gorbachev, a philosophy Ph.D and former university lecturer, wore a plaid gray suit and pink blouse.

More conspicuous were the graduates who wore purple armbands, signaling their lingering belief that Mrs. Bush’s life has epitomized the victory of fealty to family over feminist emergence.

Mrs. Bush got hearty applause when she said at one point: Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well 3/8″

But while urging the graduates to pursue professional careers, if they so choose, Mrs. Bush warned, ″At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.″

Speaking second, Mrs. Gorbachev’s gave a serious, but upbeat, talk on the virtues of Soviet perestroika and the economic reforms undertaken by her husband, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

″This vast and difficult task is a tough challenge, but we are confident that perestroika will succeed,″ she said. ″... Its goal is to make ideals and values a reality.″

Then, sounding some of the themes that Mrs. Bush hit, she spoke of ″the values that bring us together,″ including love of country and children.

″If people in the world today are more confident of a peaceful future, we have to give a good deal of credit for that to women,″ she said.

Wellesleys’ 112th commencement would have been momentous even without the student petition questioning whether Mrs. Bush was a suitable role model for the graduates of this elite Massachusetts college for women.

It was the first time the two first ladies ever shared a public platform, and Wellesley President Nannerl O. Keohane called it ″another step in the glasnost that brings a new spirit of cooperation between our two countries.″

The two first ladies later toured Boston, twice emerging from their limousine to wade into tumultuous crowds of well-wishers in Wellesley Square and outside Wellesley Middle School. They joined arms and held their hands aloft to the delight of the crowd.

After driving through Cambridge and by the Charles River past Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they headed for Boston Public Garden, where children from Mather School, the oldest public elementary school in the United States, gave them copies of a classic children’s book, ″Make Way for Ducklings.″

On the Wellesley campus, some graduating seniors had come up with a fresh protest Friday for Mrs. Bush - a letter urging her to ″take a definitive and vocal stand″ on abortion rights and other social issues affecting women.

The letter said that in honoring Mrs. Bush, ″We celebrate all the unknown women who have dedicated their lives to serving others.″ The armbands were purple because that was the senior class color this year.

The commencement was held inside a cavernous white tent that held 5,500 people. During the playing of the Soviet national anthem, several adults held a banner in the main aisle that read ″Free the Baltic States.″

Graduate Suki Hudson of Warwick, R.I., said of the seniors’ protest: ″These things are important to women. With her position, I think if she can take a stand, women’s situation would improve a great deal . That’s all we ask from her.″

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