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The President: Hello, Howard!
Audience: You know!
The President: H-U!
Audience: You know!
The President: (laughs)
Thank you so much, everybody.
Please, please, have a seat.
Oh, I feel important now.
Got a degree from Howard.
Cicely Tyson said something nice about me.
Audience Member: I love you, President!
The President: I love you back.
To President Frederick, the Board of Trustees, faculty
and staff, fellow recipients of honorary degrees, thank
you for the honor of spending this day with you.
And congratulations to the Class of 2016!
Four years ago, back when you were just freshmen, I
understand many of you came by my house the night
I was reelected.
So I decided to return the favor and come by yours.
To the parents, the grandparents, aunts, uncles,
brothers, sisters, all the family and friends who stood
by this class, cheered them on, helped them get here
today -- this is your day, as well.
Let's give them a big round of applause, as well.
I'm not trying to stir up any rivalries here; I just
want to see who's in the house.
We got Quad?
And Meridian.
Rest in peace, Meridian.
Rest in peace.
I know you're all excited today.
You might be a little tired, as well.
Some of you were up all night making sure your
credits were in order.
Some of you stayed up too late, ended up at HoChi
at 2:00 a.m.
Got some mambo sauce on your fingers.
But you got here.
And you've all worked hard to reach this day.
You've shuttled between challenging classes
and Greek life.
You've led clubs, played an instrument or a sport.
You volunteered, you interned.
You held down one, two, maybe three jobs.
You've made lifelong friends and discovered exactly what
you're made of.
The "Howard Hustle" has strengthened your sense of
purpose and ambition.
Which means you're part of a long line
of Howard graduates.
Some are on this stage today.
Some are in the audience.
That spirit of achievement and special responsibility
has defined this campus ever since the Freedman's Bureau
established Howard just four years after the Emancipation
Proclamation; just two years after the Civil War came
to an end.
They created this university with a vision -- a vision of
uplift; a vision for an America where our fates
would be determined not by our race, gender, religion
or creed, but where we would be free -- in every sense --
to pursue our individual and collective dreams.
It is that spirit that's made Howard a centerpiece of
African-American intellectual life and a
central part of our larger American story.
This institution has been the home of many firsts: The
first black Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The first black Supreme Court justice.
But its mission has been to ensure those firsts
were not the last.
Countless scholars, professionals, artists, and
leaders from every field received their training here.
The generations of men and women who walked through
this yard helped reform our government, cure disease,
grow a black middle class, advance civil rights, shape
our culture.
The seeds of change -- for all Americans -- were sown here.
And that's what I want to talk about today.
As I was preparing these remarks, I realized that
when I was first elected President, most of you --
the Class of 2016 -- were just starting high school.
Today, you're graduating college.
I used to joke about being old.
Now I realize I'm old.
It's not a joke anymore.
But seeing all of you here gives me some perspective.
It makes me reflect on the changes that I've seen over
my own lifetime.
So let me begin with what may sound like a
controversial statement -- a hot take.
Given the current state of our political rhetoric and
debate, let me say something that may be controversial,
and that is this: America is a better place today than it
was when I graduated from college.
Let me repeat: America is by almost every measure better
than it was when I graduated from college.
It also happens to be better off than when I took office --
-- but that's a longer story.
That's a different discussion for another speech.
But think about it.
I graduated in 1983.
New York City, America's largest city, where I lived
at the time, had endured a decade marked by crime and
deterioration and near bankruptcy.
And many cities were in similar shape.
Our nation had gone through years of economic
stagnation, the stranglehold of foreign oil, a recession
where unemployment nearly scraped 11 percent.
The auto industry was getting its clock cleaned by
foreign competition.
And don't even get me started on the clothes and
the hairstyles.
I've tried to eliminate all photos of me
from this period.
I thought I looked good.
I was wrong.
Since that year -- since the year I graduated -- the
poverty rate is down.
Americans with college degrees, that rate is up.
Crime rates are down.
America's cities have undergone a renaissance.
There are more women in the workforce.
They're earning more money.
We've cut teen pregnancy in half.
We've slashed the African American dropout rate by
almost 60 percent, and all of you have a computer in
your pocket that gives you the world
at the touch of a button.
In 1983, I was part of fewer than 10 percent of African
Americans who graduated with a bachelor's degree.
Today, you're part of the more than 20 percent who will.
And more than half of blacks say we're better off than
our parents were at our age -- and that our kids will be
better off, too.
So America is better.
And the world is better, too.
A wall came down in Berlin.
An Iron Curtain was torn asunder.
The obscenity of apartheid came to an end.
A young generation in Belfast and London have
grown up without ever having to think about IRA bombings.
In just the past 16 years, we've come from a world
without marriage equality to one where it's a reality in
nearly two dozen countries.
Around the world, more people live in democracies.
We've lifted more than 1 billion people
from extreme poverty.
We've cut the child mortality rate worldwide by
more than half.
America is better.
The world is better.
And stay with me now -- race relations are better
since I graduated.
That's the truth.
No, my election did not create a post-racial society.
I don't know who was propagating that notion.
That was not mine.
But the election itself -- and the subsequent one --
because the first one, folks might have made a mistake.
The second one, they knew what they were getting.
The election itself was just one indicator of how
attitudes had changed.
In my inaugural address, I remarked that just 60 years
earlier, my father might not have been served in a
D.C. restaurant -- at least not certain of them.
There were no black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Very few black judges.
Shoot, as Larry Wilmore pointed out last week, a lot
of folks didn't even think blacks had the tools
to be a quarterback.
Today, former Bull Michael Jordan isn't just the
greatest basketball player of all time -- he owns the team.
When I was graduating, the main black hero on TV
was Mr. T.
Rap and hip hop were counterculture, underground.
Now, Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyoncé
runs the world.
We're no longer only entertainers, we're
producers, studio executives.
No longer small business owners -- we're CEOs, we're
mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.
I am not saying gaps do not persist.
Obviously, they do.
Racism persists.
Inequality persists.
Don't worry -- I'm going to get to that.
But I wanted to start, Class of 2016, by opening your
eyes to the moment that you are in.
If you had to choose one moment in history in which
you could be born, and you didn't know ahead of time
who you were going to be -- what nationality, what
gender, what race, whether you'd be rich or poor, gay
or straight, what faith you'd be born into -- you
wouldn't choose 100 years ago.
You wouldn't choose the fifties, or the sixties,
or the seventies.
You'd choose right now.
If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of
Lorraine Hansberry, "young, gifted, and black" in
America, you would choose right now.
I tell you all this because it's important to note progress.
Because to deny how far we've come would do a
disservice to the cause of justice, to the legions of
foot soldiers; to not only the incredibly accomplished
individuals who have already been mentioned, but your
mothers and your dads, and grandparents and great
grandparents, who marched and toiled and suffered and
overcame to make this day possible.
I tell you this not to lull you into complacency, but to
spur you into action -- because there's still so
much more work to do, so many more miles to travel.
And America needs you to gladly,
happily take up that work.
You all have some work to do.
So enjoy the party, because you're going to be busy.
Yes, our economy has recovered from crisis
stronger than almost any other in the world.
But there are folks of all races who are still hurting
-- who still can't find work that pays enough to keep the
lights on, who still can't save for retirement.
We've still got a big racial gap in economic opportunity.
The overall unemployment rate is 5 percent, but the
black unemployment rate is almost nine.
We've still got an achievement gap when black
boys and girls graduate high school and college at lower
rates than white boys and white girls.
Harriet Tubman may be going on the twenty, but we've
still got a gender gap when a black woman working
full-time still earns just 66 percent of what
a white man gets paid.
We've got a justice gap when too many black boys and
girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded
schools to overcrowded jails.
This is one area where things have gotten worse.
When I was in college, about half a million people in
America were behind bars.
Today, there are about 2.2 million.
Black men are about six times likelier to be in
prison right now than white men.
Around the world, we've still got challenges to
solve that threaten everybody in the 21st
century -- old scourges like disease and conflict, but
also new challenges, from terrorism and climate change.
So make no mistake, Class of 2016
-- you've got plenty of work to do.
But as complicated and sometimes intractable as
these challenges may seem, the truth is that your
generation is better positioned than any before
you to meet those challenges, to flip the script.
Now, how you do that, how you meet these challenges,
how you bring about change will ultimately be up to you.
My generation, like all generations, is too confined
by our own experience, too invested in our own biases,
too stuck in our ways to provide much of the new
thinking that will be required.
But us old-heads have learned a few things that
might be useful in your journey.
So with the rest of my time, I'd like to offer some
suggestions for how young leaders like you can fulfill
your destiny and shape our collective future -- bend it
in the direction of justice and equality and freedom.
First of all -- and this should not be a problem for
this group -- be confident in your heritage.
Be confident in your blackness.
One of the great changes that's occurred in our
country since I was your age is the realization there's
no one way to be black.
Take it from somebody who's seen both sides of debate
about whether I'm black enough.
In the past couple months, I've had lunch with the
Queen of England and hosted Kendrick Lamar
in the Oval Office.
There's no straitjacket, there's no constraints,
there's no litmus test for authenticity.
Look at Howard.
One thing most folks don't know about Howard is how
diverse it is.
When you arrived here, some of you were like, oh,
they've got black people in Iowa?
But it's true -- this class comes from big cities and
rural communities, and some of you crossed oceans
to study here.
You shatter stereotypes.
Some of you come from a long line of Bison.
Some of you are the first in your family to graduate
from college.
You all talk different, you all dress different.
You're Lakers fans, Celtics fans,
maybe even some hockey fans.
And because of those who've come before you, you have
models to follow.
You can work for a company, or start your own.
You can go into politics, or run an organization that
holds politicians accountable.
You can write a book that wins the National Book
Award, or you can write the new run of "Black Panther."
Or, like one of your alumni, Ta-Nehisi Coates, you can go
ahead and just do both.
You can create your own style, set your own standard
of beauty, embrace your own sexuality.
Think about an icon we just lost -- Prince.
He blew up categories.
People didn't know what Prince was doing.
And folks loved him for it.
You need to have the same confidence.
Or as my daughters tell me all the time,
"You be you, Daddy."
Sometimes Sasha puts a variation on it
-- "You do you, Daddy."
And because you're a black person doing whatever it is
that you're doing, that makes it a black thing.
Feel confident.
Second, even as we each embrace our own beautiful,
unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember
the tie that does bind us as African Americans -- and
that is our particular awareness of injustice and
unfairness and struggle.
That means we cannot sleepwalk through life.
We cannot be ignorant of history.
We can't meet the world with a sense of entitlement.
We can't walk by a homeless man without asking why a
society as wealthy as ours allows that state
of affairs to occur.
We can't just lock up a low-level dealer without
asking why this boy, barely out of childhood, felt he
had no other options.
We have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who
we remember were just as smart and just as talented
as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures
that are unfair and unjust.
And that means we have to not only question the world
as it is, and stand up for those African Americans who
haven't been so lucky -- because, yes, you've worked
hard, but you've also been lucky.
That's a pet peeve of mine: People who have been
successful and don't realize they've been lucky.
That God may have blessed them; it wasn't nothing you did.
So don't have an attitude.
But we must expand our moral imaginations to understand
and empathize with all people who are struggling,
not just black folks who are struggling -- the refugee,
the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender
person, and yes, the middle-aged white guy who
you may think has all the advantages, but over the
last several decades has seen his world upended by
economic and cultural and technological change, and
feels powerless to stop it.
You got to get in his head, too.
Number three: You have to go through life with more than
just passion for change; you need a strategy.
I'll repeat that.
I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy.
Not just awareness, but action.
Not just hashtags, but votes.
You see, change requires more than righteous anger.
It requires a program, and it requires organizing.
At the 1964 Democratic Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer
-- all five-feet-four-inches tall -- gave a fiery speech
on the national stage.
But then she went back home to Mississippi and organized
cotton pickers.
And she didn't have the tools and technology where
you can whip up a movement in minutes.
She had to go door to door.
And I'm so proud of the new guard of black civil rights
leaders who understand this.
It's thanks in large part to the activism of young people
like many of you, from Black Twitter to Black Lives
Matter, that America's eyes have been opened -- white,
black, Democrat, Republican -- to the real problems, for
example, in our criminal justice system.
But to bring about structural change, lasting
change, awareness is not enough.
It requires changes in law, changes in custom.
If you care about mass incarceration, let me ask
you: How are you pressuring members of Congress to pass
the criminal justice reform bill now pending before them?
If you care about better policing, do you know who
your district attorney is?
Do you know who your state's attorney general is?
Do you know the difference?
Do you know who appoints the police chief and who writes
the police training manual?
Find out who they are, what their responsibilities are.
Mobilize the community, present them with a plan,
work with them to bring about change, hold them
accountable if they do not deliver.
Passion is vital, but you've got to have a strategy.
And your plan better include voting -- not just some of
the time, but all the time.
It is absolutely true that 50 years after the Voting
Rights Act, there are still too many barriers in this
country to vote.
There are too many people trying to erect new barriers
to voting.
This is the only advanced democracy on Earth that goes
out of its way to make it difficult for people to vote.
And there's a reason for that.
There's a legacy to that.
But let me say this: Even if we dismantled every barrier
to voting, that alone would not change the fact that
America has some of the lowest voting rates
in the free world.
In 2014, only 36 percent of Americans turned out to vote
in the midterms -- the secondlowest participation
rate on record.
Youth turnout -- that would be you
-- was less than 20 percent.
Less than 20 percent.
Four out of five did not vote.
In 2012, nearly two in three African Americans turned out.
And then, in 2014, only two in five turned out.
You don't think that made a difference in terms of the
Congress I've got to deal with?
And then people are wondering, well, how come
Obama hasn't gotten this done?
How come he didn't get that done?
You don't think that made a difference?
What would have happened if you had turned out at 50,
60, 70 percent, all across this country?
People try to make this
political thing really complicated.
Like, what kind of reforms do we need?
And how do we need to do that?
You know what, just vote.
It's math.
If you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do
what you want.
It's not that complicated.
And you don't have excuses.
You don't have to guess the number of jellybeans in a
jar or bubbles on a bar of soap to register to vote.
You don't have to risk your life to cast a ballot.
Other people already did that for you.
Your grandparents, your great grandparents might be
here today if they were working on it.
What's your excuse?
When we don't vote, we give away our power,
disenfranchise ourselves -- right when we need to use
the power that we have; right when we need your
power to stop others from taking away the vote and
rights of those more vulnerable than you are --
the elderly and the poor, the formerly incarcerated
trying to earn their second chance.
So you got to vote all the time, not just when it's
cool, not just when it's time to elect a President,
not just when you're inspired.
It's your duty.
When it's time to elect a member of Congress or a city
councilman, or a school board member, or a sheriff.
That's how we change our politics -- by electing
people at every level who are representative of and
accountable to us.
It is not that complicated.
Don't make it complicated.
And finally, change requires more than just speaking out
-- it requires listening, as well.
In particular, it requires listening to those with whom
you disagree, and being prepared to compromise.
When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois's
first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in
the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions
in capital cases.
And we were successful because, early on, I engaged
law enforcement.
I didn't say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you
need to do something.
I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming
majority of police officers are good, and honest, and
courageous, and fair, and love the communities
they serve.
And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even
the good cops with the best of intentions -- including,
by the way, African American police officers -- might
have unconscious biases, as we all do.
So we engaged and we listened, and we kept
working until we built consensus.
And because we took the time to listen, we crafted
legislation that was good for the police -- because it
improved the trust and cooperation of the community
-- and it was good for the communities, who were less
likely to be treated unfairly.
And I can say this unequivocally: Without at
least the acceptance of the police organizations in
Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed.
Very simple.
They would have blocked them.
The point is, you need allies in a democracy.
That's just the way it is.
It can be frustrating and it can be slow.
But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy
is always worse.
That's not just true in this country.
It's not a black or white thing.
Go to any country where the give and take of democracy
has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will
show you a country that does not work.
And democracy requires compromise, even when you
are 100 percent right.
This is hard to explain sometimes.
You can be completely right, and you still are going to
have to engage folks who disagree with you.
If you think that the only way forward is to be as
uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about
yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but
you're not going to get what you want.
And if you don't get what you want long enough, you
will eventually think the whole system is rigged.
And that will lead to more cynicism, and less
participation, and a downward spiral of more
injustice and more anger and more despair.
And that's never been the source of our progress.
That's how we cheat ourselves of progress.
We remember Dr. King's soaring oratory, the power
of his letter from a Birmingham jail, the marches
he led.
But he also sat down with President Johnson in the
Oval Office to try and get a Civil Rights Act and a
Voting Rights Act passed.
And those two seminal bills were not perfect -- just
like the Emancipation Proclamation was a war
document as much as it was some clarion call
for freedom.
Those mileposts of our progress were not perfect.
They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim
Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule.
But they made things better.
And you know what, I will take better every time.
I always tell my staff -- better is good, because you
consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next
fight from a stronger position.
Brittany Packnett, a member of the Black Lives Matter
movement and Campaign Zero, one of the Ferguson protest
organizers, she joined our Task Force
on 21st Century Policing.
Some of her fellow activists questioned whether she
should participate.
She rolled up her sleeves and sat at the same table
with big city police chiefs and prosecutors.
And because she did, she ended up shaping many of the
recommendations of that task force.
And those recommendations are now being adopted across
the country -- changes that many of the protesters
called for.
If young activists like Brittany had refused to
participate out of some sense of ideological purity,
then those great ideas would have just remained ideas.
But she did participate.
And that's how change happens.
America is big and it is boisterous and it is more
diverse than ever.
The president told me that we've got a significant
Nepalese contingent here at Howard.
I would not have guessed that.
Right on.
But it just tells you how interconnected
we're becoming.
And with so many folks from so many places, converging,
we are not always going to agree with each other.
Another Howard alum, Zora Neale Hurston, once said --
this is a good quote here: "Nothing that God ever made
is the same thing to more than one person."
Think about that.
That's why our democracy gives us a process designed
for us to settle our disputes with argument and
ideas and votes instead of violence
and simple majority rule.
So don't try to shut folks out, don't try to shut them
down, no matter how much you might disagree with them.
There's been a trend around the country of trying to get
colleges to disinvite speakers with a different
point of view, or disrupt a politician's rally.
Don't do that -- no matter how ridiculous or offensive
you might find the things that come out of their mouths.
Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time
a fool speaks, they are just advertising
their own ignorance.
Let them talk.
Let them talk.
If you don't, you just make them a victim, and then they
can avoid accountability.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't challenge them.
Have the confidence to challenge them, the
confidence in the rightness of your position.
There will be times when you shouldn't compromise your
core values, your integrity, and you will have the
responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice.
But listen.
If the other side has a point, learn from them.
If they're wrong, rebut them.
Teach them.
Beat them on the battlefield of ideas.
And you might as well start practicing now, because one
thing I can guarantee you -- you will have to deal with
ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks.
I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at
every stage of your life.
That may not seem fair, but life has never been
completely fair.
Nobody promised you a crystal stair.
And if you want to make life fair, then you've got to
start with the world as it is.
So that's my advice.
That's how you change things.
Change isn't something that happens every four years or
eight years; change is not placing your faith in any
particular politician and then just putting your feet
up and saying, okay, go.
Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch
their wagons to something bigger than themselves and
fight for it every single day.
That's what Thurgood Marshall understood -- a man
who once walked this year, graduated from Howard Law;
went home to Baltimore, started his own law practice.
He and his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, rolled up
their sleeves and they set out to overturn segregation.
They worked through the NAACP.
Filed dozens of lawsuits, fought dozens of cases.
And after nearly 20 years of effort -- 20 years --
Thurgood Marshall ultimately succeeded in bringing his
righteous cause before the Supreme Court, and securing
the ruling in Brown v.
Board of Education that separate could never be equal.
Twenty years.
Marshall, Houston -- they knew it would not be easy.
They knew it would not be quick.
They knew all sorts of obstacles would stand in
their way.
They knew that even if they won, that would just be the
beginning of a longer march to equality.
But they had discipline.
They had persistence.
They had faith -- and a sense of humor.
And they made life better for all Americans.
And I know you graduates share those qualities.
I know it because I've learned about some of the
young people graduating here today.
There's a young woman named Ciearra Jefferson, who's
graduating with you.
And I'm just going to use her as an example.
I hope you don't mind, Ciearra.
Ciearra grew up in Detroit and was raised by a poor
single mom who worked seven days a week in an auto plant.
And for a time, her family found themselves without a
place to call home.
They bounced around between friends and family who might
take them in.
By her senior year, Ciearra was up at 5:00 am every day,
juggling homework, extracurricular activities,
volunteering, all while taking care
of her little sister.
But she knew that education was her ticket to
a better life.
So she never gave up.
Pushed herself to excel.
This daughter of a single mom who works on the
assembly line turned down a full scholarship to Harvard
to come to Howard.
And today, like many of you, Ciearra is the first in her
family to graduate from college.
And then, she says, she's going to go back to her
hometown, just like Thurgood Marshall did, to make sure
all the working folks she grew up with have access to
the health care they need and deserve.
As she puts it, she's going to be a "change agent."
She's going to reach back and help folks like her succeed.
And people like Ciearra are why I remain optimistic
about America.
Young people like you are why I never give in to despair.
James Baldwin once wrote, "Not everything that is
faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until
it is faced."
Graduates, each of us is only here because someone
else faced down challenges for us.
We are only who we are because someone else
struggled and sacrificed for us.
That's not just Thurgood Marshall's story, or
Ciearra's story, or my story, or your story -- that
is the story of America.
A story whispered by slaves in the cotton fields, the
song of marchers in Selma, the dream of a King in the
shadow of Lincoln.
The prayer of immigrants who set out for a new world.
The roar of women demanding the vote.
The rallying cry of workers who built America.
And the GIs who bled overseas for our freedom.
Now it's your turn.
And the good news is, you're ready.
And when your journey seems too hard, and when you run
into a chorus of cynics who tell you that you're being
foolish to keep believing or that you can't do something,
or that you should just give up, or you should just
settle -- you might say to yourself a little phrase
that I've found handy these last eight years: Yes, we can.
Congratulations, Class of 2016!
Good luck!
God bless you.
God bless the United States of America.
I'm proud of you.
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President Obama Delivers the Commencement Address at Howard University

1792 Folder Collection
Chamber published on May 18, 2016
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  1. UrbanDictionary 俚語字典整合查詢。一般字典查詢不到你滿意的解譯,不妨使用「俚語字典」,或許會讓你有滿意的答案喔