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GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney encouraged graduates on Sunday to get involved in New Hampshire's first in the nation primary, saying the country needed a new generation to shape its political discourse.

"Most of you probably won't run for office, but the country needs all of you to serve," Romney told 471 graduates during his commencement address at Saint Anselm College.

Romney received an honorary doctorate of law and made passing lighthearted references to his 2012 loss in the presidential election.

"I was asked what it felt like to lose to President Obama," Romney said. "Not as good as winning. Failures aren't fun, but they are inevitable. More importantly, failures don't define who you are."

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Romney also used his address to encourage students to take part in the political process particularly during the New Hampshire primary.

"America faces daunting challenges: generational poverty, looming debt, a warming climate, particularly today, and a world that is increasingly dangerous and tumultuous," Romney said. "Washington appears inept, powerless and without an effective strategy to overcome any of those. America needs your passion, your impatience with inaction, your participation in the political discourse."

He encouraged students to select a presidential candidate, to work phone banks for a candidate, and to attend town meetings to ask challenging questions.

"New Hampshire is the greatest presidential proving ground we have," Romney said. "Its enduring impact is only as certain as the next generation of citizens who choose to get involved. Engaging in your world includes engaging in citizenship."

Romney told students that public service, marriage, and forging enduring friendships were key components to "live a large life." Romney said "secular successes" will not lead to the most satisfying moments in life.

Romney spoke of his friendship with Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. Monaghan used his wealth from the pizza chain to buy the Detroit Tigers, but he gave up his immense fortune, using his money to found Ave Maria University.

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"I asked him a few weeks ago what the most rewarding part of his life was: winning the World Series, building Domino's, or driving his Buggatti," Romney said. "You can guess his answer."

For some students, the address was not the first time they have had an opportunity to hear Romney speak. The former governor appeared on campus as a presidential candidate in the run-up to the 2012 New Hampshire primary.

The Catholic college is home to New Hampshire Institute of Politics, which has become a mandatory stop for candidates in the New Hampshire primary.

Graduate Jimmy Hyde, of Saugus, Mass. said Romney's comments about giving back to others particularly resonated with him.

"We were here as sophomores when Governor Romney ran," Hyde recalled. "He's the kind of guy who reaches out to students. He cares."

Kevin McAdam, who received an undergraduate degree in business, said he appreciated Romney's contention that public service led to a more fulfilling life.

"It was really the part about living large and expanding your circle and to serve," that resonated, said McAdam, of Waltham, Mass.

Dennis Dermoody, who graduated with a degree in biology, said Romney's message to get involved in politics is one that he and his fellow students have heard frequently over the last four years.

"We are told that all that time," said Dermoody, of Cheshire, Mass.

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Dermoody said he took up Romney's message four years ago when he worked at a phone bank in downtown Manchester for his 2012 presidential campaign. He recalled Romney stopping in and speaking with him while volunteering.

"I met him freshman year and it was pretty cool seeing him again after four years," Dermoody said.