President Barack Obama delivered a message endorsing personal and social responsibility in his commencement address Sunday at Morehouse College, the historically black men’s school in Atlanta, Georgia.
The president cracked wise that some students were graduating magna cum laude, while others were graduating “thank you, lawdy,” before outlining expectations for the graduates.
Obama drew on experience to connect with attendees, making mention of his “heroic single mother,” and absent father. Referring to “bad choices” he made in the past, the president also confided that, “I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.”
Obama went on to address the topic of racism and the expectations of the graduating seniors, telling graduates that:
“We’ve got no time for excuses—not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China, and India, and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured—and overcame.”
A line encouraging the students to be, “the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important,” drew a mixed response from the attendees.
The alma mater of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse has established a reputation for producing leaders in the African-American community and beyond; the president addressed that legacy directly, urging students to use “the power of your example…for something larger than yourself.”
Mr. Obama is the first sitting president to address Morehouse College and the first president to deliver a commencement speech in the state since Franklin Roosevelt’s appearance at the 1938 University of Georgia ceremony.