President Barack Obama spoke to 2013 class of Morehouse College, an historically Black American institution in Atlanta, Georgia. He called on the graduates at hs May 19 speech to devote time in service to their fellow Americans, while reminding them that they are heading into a competitive and globalized labor market. “It is one of the great honors of my life to be able to address this gathering here today,” Obama told the graduates. Lauding Morehouse and its history, Obama spoke about "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.”
“Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it,” Obama said.
Here follows an excerpt of Obama's speech cited by White House blogger Megan Slack:
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.
“But along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities,” the President said, according to Slack. “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,” she reported.
So, yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and the powerful, or if you can also find some time to defend the powerless. Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business. We need black businesses out there. But ask yourselves what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood. The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent just on making money -- rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed.
Some of you may be headed to medical school to become doctors. But make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it, too. For generations, certain groups in this country -- especially African Americans -- have been desperate in need of access to quality, affordable health care. And as a society, we’re finally beginning to change that.
“And finally, as you do these things, do them not just for yourself, but don't even do them just for the African American community. I want you to set your sights higher,” President Obama said. “It’s not just the African American community that needs you. The country needs you. The world needs you.” Setting the bar for Morehouse graduates, Obama continued, "Success may not come quickly or easily. But if you strive to do what’s right, if you work harder and dream bigger, if you set an example in your own lives and do your part to help meet the challenges of our time, then I’m confident that, together, we will continue the never-ending task of perfecting our union."
White House blogger Slack did not note some of the more jocular and personal remarks made by Obama to the Morehouse grads. For instance, Obama said "Now think about it, for black men in the '40s and '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." Lauding the example set by the founders and faculty of Morehouse, Obama said that Martin Luther King Jr. learned to be "unafraid" as he faced the obstacles to bringing about reform of racist laws in the United States.
Noting what King learned as an undergraduate at Morehouse, Obama said that "...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." Continuing, Obama said that laws and barriers have fallen "to the point that someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as President of these United States of America."