Yesterday (May 19), 500 young men received inspiring words from President Barack Obama at the 129th Commencement ceremony at Morehouse College. It wasn’t the POTUS’ first graduation address of the season, nor is it his last. But it was perhaps the most special and heartfelt, because he was speaking to a sea individuals much like himself.
With the crowd at full attention, Obama spoke on the illustrious institution’s legacy of cultivating, and not just educating, good men. He then challenged the graduates to evade the temptation to use their degrees for personal wealth.
“I know some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself,” Obama said. “Maybe you feel like you escaped, and you can take your degree, get a fancy job and never look back. And don’t get me wrong—with the heavy weight of student loans, with doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could scarcely imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty.
“So yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless,” Obama continued.
The president also spoke on the Black community’s habit of blaming its shortcomings on “the man,” his experiences doing so in the past, and why that belief is obsolete in the world’s current climate.
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices,” Obama said. “Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a Black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses.
“Well, we’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t,” explained Obama. “It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you haven’t earned.”
Obama was the first acting president to address Morehouse, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many would agree that the late civil rights activist’s spirit was felt that rainy morning.
See the entire commencement speech below.
Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters