Before delivering the keynote speech at Wellesley College’s 135th commencement Friday, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, defended the administration’s handling of its recent troubles, including the targeting of conservative groups by Internal Revenue Service officials who were reviewing applications for nonprofit status
Although many Americans have expressed outrage and concern over the singling out of the groups by the IRS, and over the Department of Justice’s combing through phone records of journalists at the Associated Press, Jarrett said in the interview that the mood of the administration is “very upbeat.”
“In any given day, our administration has about 2 million employees, and things happen,” Jarrett said. “We put in process procedures to make sure if there has been any wrongdoing, there will be appropriate consequences, and we will move on.”
And even with the scandals at the forefront of daily national news, Jarrett said she had no doubts about the administration’s conduct, and stressed that White House staff members are concentrating on moving past the incidents.
“We have every confidence that people within the White House have behaved appropriately,” she said. “People all around the country are counting on us not to get distracted or bogged down by this.”
The comments came before Jarrett addressed the 574 young women who graduated from Wellesley.
At the all-girls college known for graduates such as two of the three female secretaries of state — Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright — Jarrett, a Stanford University graduate, laced her speech with female empowerment, and jabbed at those who might disagree with that message.
When nostalgically recounting the cultural significances during her own graduation’s era, like wearing bell bottoms and dancing to Diana Ross, Jarrett joked, “Congress had a few men [back then] who thought they should make decisions for women. . . . Well, I guess some things haven’t changed.”
Jarrett implored the graduates to be flexible when searching for opportunity and to stand resilient in the face of criticism, invoking the experience of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, whose recently released book “Lean In” encourages women to rise to leadership roles.
“She has had to withstand an avalanche of criticism,” Jarrett said. “But the conversation has begun, and the book is a bestseller. That’s success.”
She also told the young women not to get swept up in regretting future choices, whether it be sacrificing a family to pursue a career, or to giving up professional passion to tend to a home life.
“Don’t look at your decisions as sacrifices,” she said, noting that she once had to juggle a job at a top Chicago law firm, a marriage separation, and being a parent all at once. “They are choices that simply illustrate your priorities.”
The Wellesley ceremony was also tinged with sadness, as the graduates remembered a classmate who died in December and the Boston Marathon bombings.
“We turned to one another, we supported one another, because we are a community that cares deeply for one another,” said Wellesley College’s president, H. Kim Bottomly. “As a class, you have been through much together, and it has created an important bond.”
In the interview before her address, Jarrett defended the decision by White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler not to inform Obama in late April about the problems at the IRS because the review into the matter was not complete.
“She made it clear that she thought it was important for that process to complete itself before involving the president,” Jarrett said. “Now that he is informed, he has already taken action. The head of the IRS has stepped down and a full investigation is underway.”
Though Jarrett said she could not comment on the lawsuit filed against the White House on behalf of some 25 politically conservative groups, she rejected claims that Obama’s public perception has been marred by the various incidents recently exposed.
“I think everybody knows he’s doing his best,” she said. “Our focus is moving the country forward.”
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.