In the past several days, Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump both took part in a cherished spring tradition for Massachusetts pols and U.S. Presidents alike: delivering a college commencement address. Both made some news doing so—unsurprisingly, as the two lightning-rods generate attention and headlines wherever and whenever they open their mouths.  

Massachusetts, of course, with its heavy concentration of colleges and unspoken competition for headlining speakers, provides a golden opportunity for politicians to scoop up honorary degrees in exchange for doing something they enjoy anyway: speaking to a captive audience. Ted Kennedy gave his first commencement address as a U.S. Senator at Assumption College in 1964, and was still at it 42 years later, speaking to graduates at Springfield College in 2006. Michael Capuano has done it at Roxbury Community College and Boston University, among others. Seth Moulton, barely in office two years, has already done it at North Shore Community College and the University of Massachusetts in Boston. 

The same is true throughout New England: Senator Susan Collins gave this year’s commencement address at the Maine Maritime Academy, and Senator Maggie Hassan will give one at the University of New Hampshire Law School next weekend. 

The modern Presidency has become even more of an honorary-diploma-mill, with the office-holder averaging three commencement addresses a year since the late 1980s. 

The honor is also a burden, as these pols strain to sound a little different from every other politician who has exhorted young adults to make positive contributions to society. 

Few can achieve the effect of the last President from Massachusetts, whose 1963 commencement address at American University, outlining a direction toward world peace, is considered an all-time classic. “Our problem are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man,” Kennedy said. “And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” 

JFK aside, it’s understandable that many pols give similar-sounding addresses each spring. Still, it was interesting to hear similarities between seemingly polar opposites—and frequent rhetorical battlers—Warren and Trump. 

Their messages—though delivered in the very different settings of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Lynchburg, Virginia—were, at heart, strikingly similar: our political systems have been hijacked by an elite minority, manipulating it to serve their own interests—and you new graduates must actively participate to break their hold. 

“Our democracy is not a machine that will run on its own,” Warren warned in her speech at the University of Massachusetts. “If elected officials don’t hear from people like you, then the policies will be set from the people they do hear from.” 

“I’ve seen first-hand how the system is broken,” Trump said at Liberty University. “A small group of failed voices… want to tell everybody how to live and how to think.” 

To be sure, they hold very different assumptions about those offending elites. To Warren, they are “corporate CEOs, from Wall Street, from giant corporations, and from others who spend buckets of money to make sure that their interests are heard.” Trump sees them as “entrenched interests and failed power structures” who stymie agents of change. 

Still, the underlying story was the same: our democracy has been hijacked by a self-interested elite; the new graduates must use their place in society to fight for the common people against those elites—the appealing populist combination of standing with the majority while at the same time fighting as the embattled underdog. “It’s the outsiders who change the world and who make a real and lasting difference,” Trump said, in a line that could easily have come from Warren’s mouth. 

Though she didn’t say his name, Warren clearly considers Trump and Washington Republicans as part of the elite, against who she “wakes up every day energized and ready to jump in against.” 

Meanwhile Trump, emphasizing the need to fight for religious freedom at the evangelical campus, painted himself and the Liberty students as outsiders against an unnamed secular liberal threat, which presumably includes Warren. 

That focus of the speech, and the choice of Liberty University itself, were deliberate signals from Trump to his political base. Evangelical conservatives were critical supporters of Trump in 2016, despite the reality that Trump is far more pragmatic, and far less ideologically rigid, that they are.  

University leaders introducing Trump, and speaking about him to the press, had to strain in defense of Trump’s record as President on their issues, when in fact he has consistently compromised or de-emphasized issues of religious liberty. 

That’s not so different from Warren, who in practice is far more pragmatic and less ideological than the progressive base who worship her. That’s shown in her bipartisan legislative efforts, her lack of interest in a range of progressive issues, and her support for moderate Democratic Senate candidates in red and purple states—not to mention her failure to endorse Bernie Sanders for President. 

And both love to speak to very supportive audiences—hence Warren in Amherst and Trump in Lynchburg. 

It’s not difficult for Warren to find left-leaning college campuses in Massachusetts. The pickings are slimmer for Trump. Perhaps that’s why Trump has scheduled just the one commencement speech this year—the first newly elected President to do just one since Jimmy Carter. 

That’s a better comparison, though, than if he were to give none at all. That would harken back to 1970 through ’72, at the height of campus protests over the Vietnam War, when the President gave no commencement speeches for three years. These days, Trump doesn’t need anything that draws comparisons with Richard Nixon.