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  • The President: Hello, Morehouse!

  • (applause)

  • Thank you, everybody.

  • Please be seated.

  • Audience Member: I love you!

  • The President: I love you back.

  • (laughter)

  • That is why I am here.

  • I have to say that it is one of the great honors of my life to

  • be able to address this gathering here today.

  • I want to thank Dr. Wilson for his outstanding leadership,

  • and the Board of Trustees.

  • We have Congressman Cedric Richmond and Sanford Bishop --

  • both proud alumni of this school,

  • as well as Congressman Hank Johnson.

  • And one of my dear friends and a great inspiration to us all --

  • the great John Lewis is here.

  • (applause)

  • We have your outstanding Mayor, Mr. Kasim Reed, in the house.

  • (applause)

  • To all the members of the Morehouse family.

  • And most of all, congratulations to this distinguished group of

  • Morehouse Men -- the Class of 2013.

  • (applause)

  • I have to say that it's a little hard to follow -- not

  • Dr. Wilson, but a skinny guy with a funny name.

  • (laughter)

  • Betsegaw Tadele -- he's going to be doing something.

  • I also have to say that you all are going to get wet.

  • (laughter)

  • And I'd be out there with you if I could.

  • (laughter)

  • But Secret Service gets nervous.

  • (laughter)

  • So I'm going to have to stay here, dry.

  • (laughter)

  • But know that I'm there with you in spirit.

  • (laughter)

  • Some of you are graduating summa cum laude.

  • (applause)

  • Some of you are graduating magna cum laude.

  • (applause)

  • I know some of you are just graduating, "thank you, Lordy."

  • (laughter and applause)

  • That's appropriate because it's a Sunday.

  • (laughter)

  • I see some moms and grandmas here, aunts,

  • in their Sunday best -- although they are upset about their hair

  • getting messed up.

  • (laughter)

  • Michelle would not be sitting in the rain.

  • (laughter)

  • She has taught me about hair.

  • (laughter)

  • I want to congratulate all of you -- the parents,

  • the grandparents, the brothers and sisters,

  • the family and friends who supported these young men

  • in so many ways.

  • This is your day, as well.

  • Just think about it -- your sons, your brothers,

  • your nephews -- they spent the last four years far from home

  • and close to Spelman, and yet they are still here today.

  • (applause)

  • So you've done something right.

  • Graduates, give a big round of applause to your family

  • for everything that they've done for you.

  • (applause)

  • I know that some of you had to wait in long lines to get into

  • today's ceremony.

  • And I would apologize, but it did not have anything to

  • do with security.

  • Those graduates just wanted you to know what it's like to

  • register for classes here.

  • (laughter and applause)

  • And this time of year brings a different kind of stress --

  • every senior stopping by Gloster Hall over the past week making

  • sure your name was actually on the list of students who

  • met all the graduation requirements.

  • (applause)

  • If it wasn't on the list, you had to figure out why.

  • Was it that library book you lent to that trifling roommate

  • who didn't return it?

  • (laughter)

  • Was it Dr. Johnson's policy class?

  • (applause)

  • Did you get enough Crown Forum credits?

  • (applause)

  • On that last point, I'm going to exercise my power as President

  • to declare this speech sufficient Crown Forum

  • credits for any otherwise eligible student to graduate.

  • That is my graduation gift to you.

  • (applause)

  • You have a special dispensation.

  • Now, graduates, I am humbled to stand here with all of you as an

  • honorary Morehouse Man.

  • (applause)

  • I finally made it.

  • (laughter)

  • And as I do, I'm mindful of an old saying: "You can always tell

  • a Morehouse Man -- (applause)

  • -- but you can't tell him much."

  • (applause)

  • And that makes my task a little more difficult, I suppose.

  • But I think it also reflects the sense of pride that's

  • always been part of this school's tradition.

  • Benjamin Mays, who served as the president of Morehouse for

  • almost 30 years, understood that tradition better than anybody.

  • He said -- and I quote -- "It will not be sufficient for

  • Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter,

  • to produce clever graduates...

  • but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and

  • private life -- men who are sensitive to the wrongs,

  • the sufferings, and the injustices of society

  • and who are willing to accept responsibility for

  • correcting (those) ills."

  • It was that mission -- not just to educate men,

  • but to cultivate good men, strong men,

  • upright men -- that brought community leaders together

  • just two years after the end of the Civil War.

  • They assembled a list of 37 men, free blacks and freed slaves,

  • who would make up the first prospective class of what

  • later became Morehouse College.

  • Most of those first students had a desire to become teachers and

  • preachers -- to better themselves so they could

  • help others do the same.

  • A century and a half later, times have changed.

  • But the "Morehouse Mystique" still endures.

  • Some of you probably came here from communities where everybody

  • looked like you.

  • Others may have come here in search of a community.

  • And I suspect that some of you probably felt a little bit of

  • culture shock the first time you came together as a class

  • in King's Chapel.

  • All of a sudden, you weren't the only high school sports captain,

  • you weren't the only student council president.

  • You were suddenly in a group of high achievers,

  • and that meant you were expected to do something more.

  • That's the unique sense of purpose that this place has

  • always infused -- the conviction that this is a training ground

  • not only for individual success, but for leadership that can

  • change the world.

  • Dr. King was just 15 years old when

  • he enrolled here at Morehouse.

  • He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who

  • lived at home with his parents.

  • And I think it's fair to say he wasn't the coolest kid on campus

  • -- for the suits he wore, his classmates called him "Tweed."

  • But his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect,

  • the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would

  • transform America.

  • It was here that he was introduced to the writings

  • of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience.

  • It was here that professors encouraged him to look past

  • the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be.

  • And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote,

  • where "I realized that nobody...was afraid."

  • Not even of some bad weather.

  • I added on that part.

  • (laughter)

  • I know it's wet out there.

  • But Dr. Wilson told me you all had a choice and decided to do

  • it out here anyway.

  • (applause)

  • That's a Morehouse Man talking.

  • Now, think about it.

  • For black men in the '40s and the '50s,

  • the threat of violence, the constant humiliations,

  • large and small, the uncertainty that you could support a family,

  • the gnawing doubts born of the Jim Crow culture that told you

  • every day that somehow you were inferior,

  • the temptation to shrink from the world, to accept your place,

  • to avoid risks, to be afraid -- that temptation

  • was necessarily strong.

  • And yet, here, under the tutelage of men like Dr. Mays,

  • young Martin learned to be unafraid.

  • And he, in turn, taught others to be unafraid.

  • And over time, he taught a nation to be unafraid.

  • And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of

  • Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear and

  • their cynicism and their despair,

  • barriers have come tumbling down,

  • and new doors of opportunity have swung open,

  • and laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point

  • where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to

  • serve as President of these United States of America.

  • (applause)

  • So the history we share should give you hope.

  • The future we share should give you hope.

  • You're graduating into an improving job market.

  • You're living in a time when advances in technology and

  • communication put the world at your fingertips.

  • Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike

  • any generation of African Americans that came before it.

  • But that doesn't mean we don't have work -- because if we're

  • honest with ourselves, we know that too few of our brothers

  • have the opportunities that you've had here at Morehouse.

  • In troubled neighborhoods all across this country -- many of

  • them heavily African American -- too few of our citizens have

  • role models to guide them.

  • Communities just a couple miles from my house in Chicago,

  • communities just a couple miles from here -- they're places

  • where jobs are still too scarce and wages are still too low;

  • where schools are underfunded and violence is pervasive;

  • where too many of our men spend their youth not behind a desk in

  • a classroom, but hanging out on the streets or brooding behind a

  • jail cell.

  • My job, as President, is to advocate for policies that

  • generate more opportunity for everybody -- policies that

  • strengthen the middle class and give more people the chance to

  • climb their way into the middle class.

  • Policies that create more good jobs and reduce poverty,

  • and educate more children, and give more families the security

  • of health care, and protect more of our children from the horrors

  • of gun violence.

  • That's my job.

  • Those are matters of public policy,

  • and it is important for all of us -- black,

  • white and brown -- to advocate for an America where everybody

  • has got a fair shot in life.

  • Not just some.

  • Not just a few.

  • (applause)

  • But along with collective responsibilities,

  • we have individual responsibilities.

  • There are some things, as black men,

  • we can only do for ourselves.

  • There are some things, as Morehouse Men,

  • that you are obliged to do for those still left behind.

  • As Morehouse Men, you now wield something even more powerful

  • than the diploma you're about to collect -- and that's the power

  • of your example.

  • So what I ask of you today is the same thing I ask of every

  • graduating class I address: Use that power for something

  • larger than yourself.

  • Live up to President Mays's challenge.

  • Be "sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings,

  • and the injustices of society."

  • And be "willing to accept responsibility

  • for correcting (those) ills."

  • I know that some of you came to Morehouse from communities

  • where life was about keeping your head down and looking out

  • for yourself.

  • Maybe you feel like you escaped, and now you can take your degree

  • and get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car --

  • and never look back.

  • And don't get me wrong -- with all those student loans you've

  • had to take out, I know you've got to earn some money.

  • With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could

  • not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty.