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Obama Calls for Understanding, Civility Over Abortion Debate; U.S. First Ladies Give Commencement Addresses; Spielberg Foundation Helps Cambodians Remember the Killing Fields; Visually Impaired Children Perform Opera.

Aired May 17, 2009 - 18:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon.

President Obama dives into America's emotional divide over abortion. Protestors outside, a few even interrupted his commencement speech just hours ago at Notre Dame. The president says opposing views in America's abortion debate cannot be reconciled. But he also says Americans can still debate abortion with respect in what he calls "fair-minded words."

Now, the president got a mostly warm welcome today from the crowd at Notre Dame's graduation ceremony. He also received an honorary degree.

It's the degree that has stoked controversy in recent days, attracting protestors on and off campus. They say it is wrong for the nation's pre-eminent Catholic institution to honor a president who favors abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research. At least three people shouted at him from the audience during his remarks.

And the president acknowledged his critics, but he says there are ways to bridge their differences.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions."

So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies.


OBAMA: Let's make adoption more available.


OBAMA: Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.


OBAMA: Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do.



LEMON: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux attended that commencement address. She is traveling with the president today and she joins us now from South Bend, Indiana.

Suzanne, the president says opposing views on America's abortion debate cannot be reconciled but at least, he said, there can be the possibility -- the possibility of common ground.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Don, that's really what he was trying to emphasize. Obviously, this is a president who did not want to get engaged in this cultural warfare if you will over these hot button social issues. It is not something he emphasized in his campaign and is not something that he's emphasized in his presidency. But clearly, this very controversial invitation really put him in front and center of the abortion issue as well as expanding stem cell research.

We heard from the president calling for common ground, that he was talking about things beyond the abortion debate or at least talking about this issue, in a way that people could in the least see some sort of common approach or a solution. But then he also recognized, Don, that there -- in some ways, this is not something that is going to be solved. That people are going to agree on here at this commencement speech or even in the near future.

Take a listen.


OBAMA: I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it -- indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory -- the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.


MALVEAUX: And, Don, really, this is a president who's pragmatic. He doesn't necessarily believe that this is something that people are going to see eye to eye on. But at the very least, he is trying to broaden this debate, if you will.

There were hundreds of protestors who are essentially outside of the university gates. He was really received much more warmly inside, overwhelming applause and support. We did see a few of those hecklers disrupt the speech from time to time -- about a dozen people did walk out of his remarks.

And you did see kind of those dueling signs of support as well as protest against the president. But for the most part, Don, you saw the president of the university and the overwhelming majority of students really embracing this message today, trying to find some common ground -- Don?

LEMON: And you know what? There really wasn't any mention by the president of health care. But he did talk about current issues when it comes to race, and he talked about the economy as well, the type of economy that these students are going to have to face after today, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And there are a couple things that he also mentioned too. He said, obviously, these are tough times, these are challenges ahead.

But he delved right into other controversial issues. He talked about stem cell research, that people may see or take a very different approach to that. He talked about HIV/AIDS, gay activists -- and others may see it differently when it comes to tackling HIV and AIDS. He talked about ending the Iraq war.

All of these things, hot button issues, he did not shy away from. We didn't expect he'd shy away from this. But obviously, he wanted to broaden the debate beyond abortion and that's what he did today, Don.

LEMON: Suzanne Malveaux -- thank you so much, Suzanne.

The president's appearance at Notre Dame has drawn protests and prayer vigils to South Bend, Indiana. And that's where our Susan Candiotti joins us from.

And, Susan, as I understand, you spoke with some protestors today who attended the event did not agree with the president being there or speaking.


And let me first show you. This is a symbol that they wore, that you saw at a distance, on television. This is a cardboard cut- out that was on top of their mortarboard. On it, you can see the yellow cross and cut-out of the baby's feet.

But on the back of it, as you can see, there are written instructions and suggestions and advice given to students who wore them, including advising them that it was all right to stand up when the president walked in. But to advise against applauding during his speech or as they put it -- if the president, quote, "blatantly promoted policies in opposition to church's teachings on life," then they asked that people did not respond, did not clap, and in fact, if they wanted to, they should stand up and leave the commencement address.

Joining us now is a protestor who nevertheless decided to go ahead and attend graduation. We've spoken to Chris many times this week. Chris Labadie, graduating senior.

First of all, congratulations.


CANDIOTTI: Tell us, you wore this. Did you decide to walk out of the president's speech when he addressed stem cell research and abortion?

LABADIE: No. I stayed throughout the entire commencement exercises. I felt that his speech was -- actually quite good. He touched on the issues that were at hand, but did so in a way that didn't openly contradict church teaching. He approached it with a spirit of dialogue -- which is what we have been approaching this entire debate with throughout the last two months. So, we felt very comfortable with the speech.

CANDIOTTI: Did it change your mind about him receiving an honor and being invited here this day. As you know, some of your fellow students did not attend his speech and were instead at masses and vigils?

LABADIE: No, it didn't change my mind. I still don't think we should have honored him. But, for the speech itself, I think it was -- it was good for us to hear his side of things. It was good for us to see that he is not as wanting to make this a circus just like the far right-wing groups that have protested from outside.

CANDIOTTI: Let's talk about that. There were a number of people who were lined up outside here, 29 people or so. More were arrested this day as they attempted to come on to campus, arrested for and charged with trespassing. This has been going on for days if not weeks.


CANDIOTTI: What about that? Was that the wrong thing for them to do? Or do you agree with their right to do it?

LABADIE: Well, I agree with their right to assemble and protest. That's in the Constitution. But we are a private institution. We are private property. So, if they come on to campus in violation of our private property, they can be arrested by the Notre Dame Security Police.

CANDIOTTI: Did they make more of it than you think should had been or not?

LABADIE: The protestors or the police?

CANDIOTTI: The protestors.

LABADIE: I think that they've stepped in a way that was not helpful.

CANDIOTTI: Chris, congratulations for joining -- for graduating and for joining us as well. Thank you for that.

LABADIE: Thanks.

CANDIOTTI: All right.

And, Don, back to you. But I think that overall, of all the protestors we spoke with, everyone agrees that the students leave here as one, that this does not split the student population here at Notre Dame. But in fact many said it makes them stronger. Back to you.

LEMON: Susan Candiotti, we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Abortion, that's a flash point for President Obama in the Notre Dame commencement controversy. But the topic may prove even more explosive for the president as he chooses a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. And for the rest of that we now go to Washington and CNN's Kate Bolduan.

What are you hearing today, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Don. Well, it is potentially one of the most significant statements of his presidency so far. Supreme Court justices are the final word on so many hot button issues, including abortion, and the president is nearing his decision.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): President Obama calls it among his most serious responsibilities.

OBAMA: I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity.

BOLDUAN: Sources close to the selection process tell CNN, the list of top candidates for Mr. Obama's Supreme Court nominee is down to about half a dozen, a majority of which are women. They include federal appeals court judges, Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and at least two candidates with political experience, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

On his search, the president says he is looking beyond judicial record.

OBAMA: I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

BOLDUAN: That worries many conservatives who translate what Mr. Obama calls "empathy" to mean judicial activism. Conservative groups are gearing up for a fight.

GARY MARX, EXEC. DIR., JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION NETWORK: We want to see that lobby equally applied. And the empathy talk really -- you know, personal feelings getting in the mix, that is very troublesome.

BOLDUAN: The president is likely to announce his nominee by month's end, a lifetime appointment viewed as a key element of any presidential legacy.

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: It's impossible to overstate the importance of a Supreme Court appointment because of the justice's power, they decide things like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, the meaning of all the laws involving the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and presidential powers, wiretapping -- the list goes on and on and on.


BOLDUAN: And President Obama's pick will undoubtedly be left of center. And while replacing one left-leaning justice with another won't likely change the ideological balance of the conservative bench, liberals are hoping for a more forceful judge to take on the conservative majority of the high court -- Don?

LEMON: So, Kate, you know, we are hearing from senior White House correspondent Ed Henry that the president is gearing up for a possible showdown over his pending nominee, it hasn't been announced yet. But what can you tell us about this possible showdown that we are hearing about?

BOLDUAN: Yes. According to senior administration officials, they tell our colleague Ed Henry that the White House will be bringing over long-time Democratic power player, Stephanie Cutter, to lead the confirmation campaign. She has years of experience as a Democratic strategist. Cutter has been a top adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, working on the very difficult financial crisis that the country is going through right now.

Now, we hear that the White House will be bringing her over to be basically the point person for trying to mobilize public support of the president's nominee. Now, this is an interesting move -- as you hear, conservative groups are gearing up for a fight. And this could indicate, Don, that the White House -- while the Democrats do have a majority in Congress and in the Senate -- the White House could be seeing, at least, preparing themselves for a confirmation battle as well.

LEMON: Oh, that -- Stephanie Cutter, that's pretty hefty resume, adviser to Geithner, and adviser to Kerry in his 2004 campaign, and a former Obama -- former spokesperson for the Obama transition team. So, I guess the question that follows here is: How large are these behind-the-scenes players in this confirmation process, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, they are key players in kind of trying to get the message that they want out there. Cutter, in this position, she'll serve as kind of a go-between, a coordinator between the nominee, the White House, Capitol Hill, as well as outside interest groups, outside liberal groups, and trying to obviously combat the message of conservative groups. And she does have experience in this. Cutter helped handle the Democratic opposition strategy when President Bush, Bush's nominees of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were going through the confirmation process then.

LEMON: Yes. We need some playing cards with everyone's names on it just to get exactly ...


BOLDUAN: I'll start holding them up, yes.

LEMON: OK. And maybe we should do that. Kate Bolduan, we appreciate it. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We'll get on that, Don, you and me.

LEMON: And I want to tell our viewers, Kate, senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, he's going to join us next hour to talk about this expected showdown over the Supreme Court vacancy and we'll also discuss the president's remarks on abortion and what we can expect about SCOTUS, the Supreme Court, next week from the administration.

President Obama batting .500 when it comes to honorary degrees?


OBAMA: I don't know if you are aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by.


OBAMA: So far I am only one for two as president.



LEMON: Is that a good average? Well, we'll have much more on his Notre Dame speech. We'll try to find out.

Also, you've heard of "Dancing with the Stars," right? Well, these are the real stars. A special program in Atlanta teaches visually impaired kids to dance. You don't want to miss this.

Also, we want to hear from you tonight. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or -- that's how you get your comments on the air.


LEMON: If you are joining us, President Barack Obama receives an honorary degree this afternoon from Notre Dame. His visit had provoked days of debate, criticism, protests, primarily because of Mr. Obama's pro-abortion position.

And the president did nothing to shy away from that controversy, instead, he reminded the students and faculty that deep disagreements underscore Notre Dame's vital role in modern society, and he invoked the name of a former Notre Dame president.


OBAMA: It's a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition. Now Father ...


OBAMA: Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse, and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.


LEMON: Let's talk about the president's focus here, this mission of, at least, the possibility of common ground. Joining me now with his perspective on the president's commencement address, Notre Dame history professor Scott Appleby. He's also the director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Thank you, sir. I want to read something, one of our viewer's comments here today. This one is coming to us from Twitter. It's from Sammi Dogan. He says, "I enjoyed his speech -- meaning the president -- but I feel the university failed students that decided to attend Notre Dame based on religious beliefs." Do you think that's accurate?

SCOTT APPLEBY, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, NOTRE DAME: I didn't get part of it. Yes, Notre Dame students do attend Notre Dame largely because many -- the undergraduates at least -- 85 percent are Catholic and their religious beliefs are very important to them as are religious beliefs of every student and faculty here, including those who don't follow a particular denomination.

So, yes, they do attend out of deep religious conviction. And many, many attend because that conviction includes openness to others to their points of view and to dialogue.

LEMON: OK. So, that student, obviously, was against the visit in some way, or that person who responded.

But there was also a petition where several hundred thousand people signed. And you responded to that saying, "You know, I don't want to diminish these numbers -- talking about people who signed it -- but there are 75 million American Catholics, and many times that number of graduates at Notre Dame. I don't think that means Notre Dame should change its decision or should not have invited the president." Correct?

APPLEBY: Right. You know, it's a university. And therefore, we welcome a wide range of opinions and beliefs and those who dissented from this decision have a right to their voice and a part of the debate. But that's what we're calling for -- dialogue, debate and civil discussion of our differences.

LEMON: What stood out to you in this address? Was it the idea of common ground? Or was there another stickier issue to that you would rather respond to, that the president spoke about?

APPLEBY: Well, I just have to say, this president is remarkable because he -- he could have avoided the topic. He could have papered over it. But he was as honest and as forthright as one can expect anyone to be about where he stands on the issue, but also, in his earnest search for common ground.

And he made a number of concessions to the other side and a number of points that Catholics who disagree with him on the basic issues can embrace. So, he talked about freedom of conscience and the importance of freedom of conscience for those who do not choose to perform abortions or to be in a medical facility that does so. He talked about the need to reduce abortions and to give women a better choice than an abortion or no abortion -- that is to support women who want to bring their children to term.

In so many other ways in the speech, the president reached out, sought common ground, stood his own ground, but was willing to model for us what it means to be in a university setting and to be in a democracy in which values are cherished and disagreements are broached honestly.

LEMON: Do you think the protestors should have been there? If you had your druthers, would you have wanted them to be there or would you had rather they not be there?

APPLEBY: Well, I think people have a right to protest. I don't particularly welcome people shouting out of the middle of a commencement speech. But those things happen.

So, it's fine that they were there. I think they didn't disrupt the ceremony. And we all got the message. And it was a wonderful day for Notre Dame and, I think, for the country.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Scott Appleby. We really appreciate you this evening.

And also, the response ...

APPLEBY: Thank you.

LEMON: ... from our viewers who are watching. Thank you, Scott Appleby, joining us there from Indiana.

Now, you know how some do-it-yourself projects don't work out the way that you planned, right? That's how it happens. Boy, look at the video. It's always amazing. Well, that seems to be the theme of the Hubble repair mission. We'll tell you about that.

Also, if are sick of sitting in rush-hour traffic, how about flying over it? Just like the Jetsons.


LEMON: You have heard it plenty of times. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, right? Well, the saying holds true even in the cold weightlessness of space.

Astronauts found a few technical difficulties today on their fourth space walk to fix the Hubble telescope. A stripped bolt complicated matters for hours until the space walkers found a more down to earth approach. I like that -- space walkers. They used some elbow grease and brute force to yank it out.

NASA hopes one more space walk will do the trick to get the 19- year-old space observatory good to go as they say.

Right back here on earth. It has been a wet Sunday for many in the eastern U.S., but sunnier skies will prevail tomorrow. Is that right? CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras, I can use it here.


LEMON: So can you. So can everybody who is here.

JERAS: I hear you. It's been a lot to worry for so many people up and down the eastern seaboard, all across the southeast. You know, we've been just stuck in this pattern, with wet weather and showers, and even some thundershowers. Some of which have been really, really heavy. Some flash flooding in the coastal Carolinas right now. We could see a good two to three inches in this area.

Are you sick of it? Oh, yes, Don. I know you are. Cheer up (ph) a little bit. The good news is, as high pressure is going to start to build in, we're going to start to clear some of this out for tomorrow. High pressure will be in place. So, that's going to bring in the sunshine.

But, it is going to be bringing in some much cooler temperatures. How cold? Well, cold enough that it's going to be feeling a lot like winter across some parts of the Great Lakes and northeast. Freeze warning, where temperatures will be in the upper 20s. And frost advisories for you in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, where temperatures will be in the low to mid-30s. So, cover up any of those plants.

While you are going to be freezing in the northeast, you're baking in the southwest. Near record temperatures here. It's 103 degrees in Phoenix at this hour. Tomorrow, we are going to be talking 106, while temperatures remaining below average across parts of the east.

I want to quickly mention the tropics, Don. We did start out the eastern Pacific hurricane season on Friday. We don't get started really in the Atlantic until June 1. But things are looking a little interesting around Jamaica and that could bring some rain to Florida by the middle of the week. We'll talk more about that later tonight.

LEMON: When you mention 106 temperatures, I thought you were talking about the tropics. My goodness.

Hey, did you watch the Jetsons as a kid?

JERAS: Loved them.

LEMON: OK. Then pay attention to this next story because it's about taking automotive and aviation technology to new heights. CNN's Gary Tuchman does both on tonight's "Edge of Discovery" with -- get this -- a flying car.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Wright brothers introduced us to the first flight. The Jetsons allowed us to dream of taking a flying saucer to the local grocery store.

If you thought the flying car was just an impossible dream, think again. Some MIT engineers have done it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That looked beautiful from up here.

TUCHMAN: Introducing the Terrafugia Transition -- a one-of-a- kind vehicle built to handle rush-hour traffic or fly over it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got a steering wheel here. You got a gas pedal and brake pedal on the floor. You've got the control stick for when you're flying and a throttle for when you're flying.

TUCHMAN: The Transition's designers think of it first and foremost as an airplane, but once on the ground ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It converts between flying and driving in 20 seconds.

TUCHMAN: The touch of a few buttons makes it small enough to hit the highway, even park in a single-car garage.

CARL DIETRICH, CEO, TERRAFUGIA: That's something we are really excited about because it really shows that a vehicle like this has the potential to expand aviation and make it more practical for a larger segment of the population.

TUCHMAN: Testing is underway right now. Inventors say you can see the Transition on a runway, a driveway or even Broadway by the end of 2011. By then, each have or own robot maid, too.

Gary Tuchman, CNN.


LEMON: See, I didn't even know that Jetsons stuff was in there.

OK. Well, President Obama faces his foes and directly addresses the divide over abortion.

Also tonight, "Dancing with Their Hearts." A special program teaches visually impaired children how they can be dancing stars.


LEMON: President Obama is calling for understanding and civility in America's debate over abortion. Mr. Obama used today's speech to Notre Dame grads to speak to critics who say he should not be given an honorary degree by that prominent Catholic university. The president acknowledged their criticisms but also said there are ways Americans can find common ground. Listen.


OBAMA: As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my senate campaign. One that I describe in a book I wrote called "The Audacity of Hope."

And a few days after the Democratic nomination, I received an e- mail from a doctor who told me that, while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry my campaign staff posted on my web site, an entry that said I would fight, quote, "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose," unquote. The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person. He supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable.

He wrote, "I do not ask, at this point, that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words." Fair- minded words. After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn't change my underlying position. But I did tell my staff to change the words on my web site.

And I said a prayer that night, that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that, when we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. That's when we begin to say, maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually. It has both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.


Let's reduce unintended pregnancies.


Let's make adoption more available.


Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.


Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded, not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do.


Now -- (APPLAUSE) -- understand class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it, indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory, the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely, we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words.


LEMON: Fair-minded words. We heard a lot about that during the commencement.

Let's talk about the president's Notre Dame speech with senior political analyst, Mr. Bill Schneider, of course, part of the best political team on television.

Bill, first up, was the speech intended to grease the wheels for the SCOTUS nominee. There will be movement on that next week?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There will. There's likely to be a nomination. He indicated -- the White House has indicated there's likely to be a nominee by the end of May, which is in the next two weeks. Certainly, abortion will be a central issue in that debate. He is very likely, almost certain to support someone that supports abortion rights. How essential that will be in the nomination process, well, it usually is for a Supreme Court nominee. But we'll see this time.

LEMON: Bill, while talking Roe V. Wade, the president as well mentioned the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Listen and we'll talk.


OBAMA: When people set aside their differences even for a moment to work in common effort toward a common goal, when they struggle together and sacrifice together and learn from one another, then all things are possible. After all, I stand here today, as president and as an African-American on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.


LEMON: Interesting comparison, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: That is an interesting comparison. And there's an interesting contrast that I have noticed. Brown was hand down in 1954 and it paved the way for school desegregation and integration. What we saw was that, year by year after that decision, support for legal segregation in this country virtually disappeared. Certainly, by about 20 years after that decision, there was no support for segregation anymore. And the civil rights movement made steady progress in law and in public opinion.

LEMON: Let's talk about -- yeah, go ahead.

SCHNEIDER: I was going to say, after the Roe V. Wade decision was handed down in 1973, we haven't seen much movement on the abortion issue. Americans are as divided now over abortion as they were back in 1973.

LEMON: Let's talk about conservatives and how they viewed this commencement and the invitation. And we'll go straight to the top for that because RNC chair, Michael Steele, on "Meet the Press" this morning spoke about the honorary degree decision. Bill, listen.


MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: A lot of Catholics and pro-life Americans are very concerned about that. I think it is inappropriate. The president should speak, but the degree should not be conferred.


LEMON: This issue of choice and abortion, Bill, it's an issue conservatives are not likely to reverse their stance on.

SCHNEIDER: No, the president himself, you heard him say the two camps on this issue are really, at some level, irreconcilable. But he urged fair-minded words, for people on both sides not to be shrill and harsh and denunciations of each other. They should understand the other side's position. He said an interesting word for some one in politics. He said a certain amount of "doubt" would be a humbling experience for people on both sides.

LEMON: Bill Schneider, part of the best political team on television, our senior political analyst, thank you very much.


LEMON: Now from the president to the first lady, Michelle Obama. She was also at the commencement podium this weekend. Yesterday, she spoke at the first graduating class at University of California, Merced, a campus that opened in 2005. Students started a letter writing and video campaign to get her attention. It did work.

The first lady urged graduates to give back to their communities and to thank those who made their success possible.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I group in one of those communities with similar values. Like Merced, the south side of Chicago is a community where people struggled financially but worked hard, looked out for each other, and rallied around their children. My father was a blue-collar worker, as you all know. My mother stayed at home to raise me and my brother. We were the first to graduate from college in our immediate family.


I know that many of you out here are also the first in your families to achieve that distinction as well. (APPLAUSE). And as you know, being the first is often a big responsibility.


LEMON: The first lady also talked about a university in her backyard, University of Chicago.

Well the first lady wasn't the only first lady in the spot light this weekend. Former First Lady Laura Bush returned to her alma mater yesterday to give the key note address. Southern Methodist University is where she received her bachelor's degree elementary education. And she admitted to something she might not want to tell her father-in- law.


LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: So then I reflected on my graduation with my master's degree. But I couldn't recall who gave that commencement address. That's because I skipped the ceremony.


But I did look it up. And you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was some guy named George Bush.



LEMON: Well, if the former president didn't know, he certainly does now. The former first lady of the united states, Laura Bush.

Well, it is that time of the year, School dance recitals. But you probably have never seen one like this one. Look how cute they are. A special school helping visually impaired kids strut their stuff.


LEMON: A Nobel Peace Prize winner goes on trial Monday for an uninvited American guest's visit. Democracy activist Anson Sutchi (ph) has been held in prison or confined to her home for past 19 years by Myanmar's military rulers. Tomorrow's trail stems from an incident where American, John Yadoff (ph), swam across a lake into Sutchi's detention compound and stayed overnight. Sutchi was blamed, and now goes on trial for his unsanctioned visit. Supporters say the trial is simply an excuse to extend her house arrest.

One of the longest running civil wars in modern day Asia may be drawing to an end. Despite gunfire, Sri Lanka's 26-year-old civil war appears to be in its waning days with government forces surrounding key Tamil (ph) Tiger strong holds. The rebels have offered to, quote, "silence their guns," but they have made similar overtures in the past when backed into a corner. As many as 70,000 people have perished in the conflict that started in the summer of 1983.

They're too young to remember what happened in their country three decades ago, genocide on a massive scale, but young Cambodians are working to make sure those killing fields are never forgotten. And they're getting help from an American foundation started by Steven Spielberg.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom has their story.


KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Oscar- winning film "The Killing Fields" shined a spotlight on the worst genocide, the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians at the hands of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s.

RATANAK LENG, CAMBODIAN DOCUMENTATION CENTER: My grandparent was killed during the Khmer Rouge regime because he used to be a policeman.

FINNSTROM: 30 years after the massacres...

LENG: My aunt, my uncle also was killed.

FINNSTROM: 22-year-old Cambodian, Ratanak Leng is helping to piece together the stories of his family and of thousands of other witnesses and survivors. He works for the Cambodian Documentation Center which is also collecting maps of mass graves, photographs, and written records. They're being used for education and for evidence in war crime trials now under way.

Documenting something so horrific, so massive seems almost impossible.

LENG: Sometime it is hard for me.

FINNSTROM: But Leng and his colleagues found help halfway around the world. The University of Southern California, Shoah Foundation was started by Steven Spielberg in 1994, a year after his Oscar- winning holocaust film "Shindler's List." During the past 15 years, it has collected some 52,000 testimonies from holocaust survivors and witnesses. Nobody anywhere has documented genocide on such a scale.

KIM SIMON, DIRECTOR, USC SHOAH FOUNDATION INSTITUTE: Our hope was that we could take these interns through our process and apply it to other genocides or to other communities.

FINNSTROM: Leng has learned how to preserve and catalog thousand of testimonies, to how to question survivors, like this American refugee Danny Von.

LENG: He told me about a spy, a spy that stayed under his house to watch what he is doing. They can accuse us of hiding food, hiding rice.

FINNSTROM: While Cambodia's killing fields operated worlds away from Europe's holocaust...


FINNSTROM: Leng and Shoah volunteer, Renee Firestone, say they are painfully similar. Firestone recorded the testimonies of more than 200 survivors, including her own. Nazis killed her mother, father and sister.

FIRESTONE: When she didn't come the third day, I knew that something happened to her.

FINNSTROM: Firestone, who dedicated her life to unmasking the horrors of genocide, says she only wishes this work didn't have to be passed to another generation.

FIRESTONE: It is very important that we tell those stories.


FIRESTONE: Because they still didn't learn the lessons.

FINNSTROM: Kara Finnstrom for CNN, Los Angeles.


LEMON: Dancing -- with their hearts. A special program teaches visually impaired children how they can be dancing stars.


LEMON: Time now to make you smile, because some very talented 5- year-olds performed an opera version of a children's classic. But I have to tell you, this isn't your traditional opera. These aren't your average 5-year-olds.

Check out what CNN's Brooke Baldwin found out.



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An opera fit for a 5-year-old, think the "Three Little Pigs" with a twist.

CHILDREN: Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-.

BALDWIN: They sing, they dance. Would you guess these kids can't see?

(on camera): Give you a round of applause.

TATIANA LARVEY (ph), VISUALLY IMPAIRED: You would just be so proud of yourself.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Tatiana Larvey (ph) is one of 10 children enrolled in the Begin Program at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta.

Ann McComiskey serves as director. She says the program's purpose is twofold. One, teach these parents how to be their child's best advocate. And two, show these children how to adapt to life without perfect sight.

ANN MCCOMISKEY, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED: We teach the parents to use literal language so the child is getting an idea, oh, this is my hand. Oh, this is my hand. Oh, I have two hands.

BALDWIN: Parents travel to the center once a week, sometimes driving several hours just to get there.

(on camera): She is going to a typical kindergarten?

RHONDA STEGALL, PARENT OF VISUALLY IMPAIRED: She going to a typical kindergarten in our school district.

BALDWIN (voice-over): A major accomplishment, considering that doctors told Rhonda Stegall her daughter was blind at birth. Fast forward five years, Brook's vision has improved as has her confidence thanks to this special school.

STEGALL: Her social skills, just playing with the other kids, interacting with them is a huge difference for her, and just the learning.

BALDWIN: According to the program's musical director, singing plays an integral role in that learning process.


BALDWIN: Through this opera, Jackie Howard has taught these kids how to move through dance and new vocabulary through songs.

(on camera): They are learning self-confidence, which is so important.

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CENTER FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED: That is important to me, the self confidence. I always say success weaves success. And the confidence tht they felt by completing this task, I mean, when they are asked to do other things, they will remember, I did that. I can do anything.


BALDWIN: Just ask little Miss Muffett. Tatiana took that lesson to heart.

(on camera): Good job.

LARVEY (ph): I did it.

That was beautiful! Thank you so much, guys. That was beautiful.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Atlanta.


LEMON: How cut is she. That was beautiful. Thank you, a very nice story. Congratulations to them as well.

Coming up very shortly here on CNN, straight talk from President Obama on abortion. We will break down what he said and how he said it.


LEMON: Well, most people work all their lives and look forward to relaxing during retirement. Not so for 75-year-old -- a 75-year- old cancer survivor. Her name is Barbara Hillary.


BARBARA HILLARY, CANCER SURVIVOR: When I retired, I was looking for something to do. And I looked around and I saw "take a cruise" and, to me, to be stuck on a ship with boring married people, I could think of nothing worse. Therefore, I suddenly found that there were polar bears that you could photograph, so I immediately went north up to Manitoba and photographed polar bears. And I fell in love with the north. And, after that, I went on to learn to operate a snowmobile and learn to drive a dog team. And as a natural progression, I kept hearing about Matt Headson and Admiral Perry and, yet, there was no mention of a black woman. And that's how I sort of backed into this.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: And that's her quest, to stand at the top of the world. Barbara Hillary is an African-American first. Her story, next hour, right here on CNN.

Here's what some of you are saying about the stories we're putting on the air and other things, as well.

Erickanicole728 says, "We can all learn from President Obama. He is gracious. He has a great sense of humor and is committed to the U.S."

Bonitasmith says, "I didn't watch or listen to Obama. He's spoken so much on primetime that I've long since burned out on hearing him talk."

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