WELLESLEY, MASS., JUNE 1 -- One thing was certain today at Wellesley College's 112th commencement exercises -- Barbara Bush triumphed. With Raisa Gorbachev by her side, Mrs. Bush confronted complaints about her selection as a role model for young women and urged the graduates to "respect difference, to be compassionate ... to cherish our own identity."

They loved it. Throughout her address, the crowd cheered, applauded and laughed at her jokes. After weeks of talk and news reports about a student petition complaining that Mrs. Bush was chosen because of who her husband is, the students seemed ecstatic to have her here. That the Soviet First Lady accompanied her and spoke to the graduates only improved the day.

The morning began under brilliant sunshine with the once-unlikely combination of KGB and Secret Service agents leading Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Gorbachev into the tent for the ceremony. The crowd of 5,000 burst into thunderous cheers as the two women arrived; neither one of them could stop smiling.

"Now I know your first choice for today -- guess how I know? -- was Alice Walker, known for 'The Color Purple,' " Mrs. Bush said to laughter. "Instead you got me, known for the color of my hair."

During her speech, she urged the students "to believe in something larger than yourself, to get involved in some of the big ideas of your time."

She talked about the choices they had to make and offered some advice: "You must cherish your human connections, your relationships with friends and family. For several years, you've had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work. Of course, that's true, but as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or a business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections -- with spouses, with children, with friends -- are the most important investments you will ever make."

She also joked about Wellesley's annual hoop race in which the winner, by tradition, was always thought to be the first who would get married. Now the winner is said to be the first CEO or millionaire. Mrs. Bush called both stereotypes and offered a new legend in which the winner of the hoop race would realize her dream, not society's dream. "And who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president's spouse," she said. "I wish him well!" The crowd roared.

The only sign of any remaining campus rancor about the appropriateness of inviting Mrs. Bush, who dropped out of Smith College at the end of her freshman year to get married, took the form of a letter left on 5,000 folding chairs inside the tent. It informed the crowd that by honoring her, "we celebrate all the unknown women who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. The purple armbands you see today are in honor of these very women."

An estimated one-third of the 600 seniors wore the bands in support of their request that the First Lady "take a definite and vocal stand on critical issues that shape the lives of women in the United States," the letter said. It cited such issues as family and medical leave, day care, welfare services, AIDS research, wage gaps and the deterioration of women's reproductive rights.

One of the graduates, Heather Huddleston, said, "I'm showing support for my school, my classmates and for women." Suki Hudson, who also wore an armband, said, "I think these things are important for women. I think if she can take a stand, women's situations would improve a great deal. That's all we ask from her."

There were a few other signs of protest, but they were meant for Mrs. Gorbachev. During the singing of the Soviet national anthem, someone in the crowd raised a banner reading "Free the Baltics." Outside the campus were a few posters reading "Release All Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian Soldiers" and "Kashmir Is Today's Tiananmen." And, as Mrs. Gorbachev was making her way to the limousine after the ceremony, someone in a camouflage hat approached and said, "All of my compatriots are suffering because of developments there {in Lithuania}." She replied, "There are several nationalities and we have to take into consideration all their moods and the will of all the people and on those grounds we will arrive at the best results."

Today's commencement was Mrs. Gorbachev's first public speech in the United States and the first time the two First Ladies had appeared publicly in this kind of forum. In her remarks, Wellesley President Nannerl O. Keohane called the occasion "a stirring sense that Wellesley is directly linked by this visit with the changes in the world's climate."

With an interpreter translating her address, Mrs. Gorbachev, who holds a doctorate in philosophical sciences from Moscow State University, brought "warm regards" from her husband, spoke of the significance of perestroika and women's roles. It was a serious speech that drew repeated applause, though more subdued than Mrs. Bush's.

Perestroika's "goal is to make humane ideals and values a reality," Mrs. Gorbachev said. "This vast and difficult task is a tough challenge. But we are confident that perestroika will succeed. The guarantee of that is the patriotism and talent of our people, their tenacity, their strength and their desire to overcome obstacles on the way, on the road they choose."

Later she told the graduates, "We women have our special mission. Always, even in the most cruel and troubled times, women have had the mission of peacemaking, humanism, mercy and kindness. And if people in the world today are more confident of a peaceful future, we have to give a great deal of credit for that to women who are active in advocating friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding among nations.

"Your generation will soon assume the responsibility for everything that takes place on our planet. May good luck and happiness be with you."

Both First Ladies received standing ovations, and after they left the stage, mobs of people greeted them. Mrs. Gorbachev shook hands and kept saying "thank you" through her interpreter.

After a couple of stops to greet well-wishers in Wellesley, the motorcade -- with the First Ladies sharing a limousine -- took them to Boston. There, they drove by MIT and other landmarks and ended up at Boston Public Gardens, across from Boston Common, where a group of schoolchildren was waiting to receive them.

When asked by reporters how she and Mrs. Gorbachev were doing, Mrs. Bush said, "I feel enormously comfortable with Mrs. Gorbachev." Indeed, the two appeared to get along well throughout the day. They held hands during the introductions at Wellesley and Mrs. Gorbachev frequently leaned over during the ceremony to grasp Mrs. Bush's hand. Mrs. Gorbachev told reporters that she felt the visit was "extremely open, sincere and friendly. Despite the fact that we may have differences, that does not change the tone or the empathy revealed for one another."

After the festivities in Boston Gardens, the two returned to the motorcade that took them to their flight to Washington.