Clinton's Speech to High Schoolers Raises Questions

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - One day after addressing McLean (Va.) High School 's graduating class, Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke at another high school commencement ceremony in New Hampshire Thursday evening, prompting questions about whether presidential candidates should address high school students.

The New York Democrat was invited to address graduates at Central High School in Manchester.

"It's unfortunate that Central's students and their parents will be force-fed Hillary Clinton's extreme-left rhetoric on such a joyous day because their principal apparently has a political agenda," Summer Johnson, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, told Cybercast News Service Thursday, ahead of the speech.

The New Hampshire Union Leader's editorial page also questioned the motives of principal John Rist, whose wife is the former state Democratic Party chairwoman.

"Having a single presidential candidate speak at a public high school graduation is entirely inappropriate," the paper said in an editorial early this week.

"Intentionally or not, Principal Rist is turning commencement into a Clinton campaign stop and offering up the students as props.

"Don't think a candidate can get around that by refraining from pressing a political agenda," the Union Leader argued. "The candidate's presence itself constitutes a campaign event. And the school's provision of a platform for a single candidate implies an endorsement of that candidate's views."

New Hampshire Republican Party spokesman Sean Mahoney also questioned the decision.

"I think it was ill advised for the school to invite a candidate to their graduation to speak to students at least without giving fair time to both a Republican and a Democratic candidate," he told Cybercast News Service.

"To be fair it only makes sense to have a balanced speaker line up. The school would be better served for both parents and students to have varying opinions aired at the graduation ceremony."

Johnson said Thursday the high schoolers deserved better "than to hear from a calculating politician" and went on to criticize Clinton's stance on the mission in Iraq.

"It would be interesting for Sen. Clinton to explain how anything other than pure politics led her to vote for cutting off funding for our soldiers and setting a timeline for withdrawal after previously denouncing such positions," she said.

Andrew Smith, director of the survey center at the University of New Hampshire, said political candidates "often speak at college graduations - or anywhere else they can get a crowd."

Smith told Cybercast News Service he was sure that Rist's connections through his wife "had something to do with their ability to make it possible for Clinton to come to the school, but I wouldn't see it as an endorsement."

"Even for students or parents who are Republicans, I'm sure Clinton speaking at their graduation will be memorable," Smith added.

Clinton said in a statement beforehand that she was "looking forward to returning to New Hampshire and speaking with Central High School's graduating seniors. This is truly an honor for me."

Kathleen Strand, a spokesperson for Clinton, told Cybercast News Service that the senator "is honored to have the opportunity to address great young people, and as a mother, former first lady and senator, to share a message of inspiration and hope with them."

Rist did not return requests for comment for this article.

Clinton also spoke at McLean High School's graduation in McLean, Va., Wednesday at the request of her colleague Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), whose daughter was one of the graduates.

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