Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.