President Obama's Speech at Morehouse College

The president addresses graduates during college's 2013 commencement ceremony.
31:55 | 05/19/13

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Transcript for President Obama's Speech at Morehouse College
-- -- Thank you -- please be seated. I love you back. -- -- I've decided that. The it is. One of the great honors of my life. To be able -- -- This gathering here today. -- doctor Wilson. For his outstanding leadership and the board of trustees'. We have congressman and a senator Richard Mendon Sanford bishop -- probably laden this school. As well as congressman Hank Johnson and -- one of my dear friends. At a great inspiration to resolve a great job loses there. We have. Your outstanding manner mr. -- -- In the house. All the members. Of the morehouse -- -- And most of all congratulations to this distinguished group of morehouse -- the class. But 2000 Arctic. A and -- It's hard to follow all. Not doctor Wilson but. Let's get a guy. With a funny name. -- -- -- -- Going to know exactly. I also had to say that. You all are gonna get away. -- -- -- -- -- -- But -- service gets nervous. Some have to stay here drug. But no -- there -- good spirit. Some -- your graduating. -- -- -- -- Some of -- graduated magna cum laude. I know. Some -- -- does graduate and thank you lot of. That's appropriate government. Sunday. -- them. Mom and grandma bear Arnold. In -- Sunday advance. Although they are upset about their hair getting messed up. But that. Michelle would not be certain in the right. She has taught me about it. I want to read all of -- The parents -- grandparents -- Brothers and sisters. The family and friends who supported these young men. In so many ways this is your day as well. To think about it your sons your Brothers. Nephews they've spent the last forty years far from home all. And close to spelman and yet they are still here today. We've done something right. Graduates -- a big round of applause -- your family for everything they've gone forward. I know that some of you had to wait in long lines to get in today's ceremony. -- word apology does but it did not have anything to do with security those graduates. Just want to know what it's like to register for classes here. This time around. You're -- -- a different kind of stress. Everything you're stopping my Gloucester -- over the past week making -- your name. With the actually on the list of students who met all the graduates -- -- -- -- -- Yet to figure out why. -- -- library book you lent to that. Franklin roommate who -- -- target. What the doctor Johnson's both the glass. -- good enough crown -- credits. On the last point I'm -- exercise my powers run. To declare this speech the Barrett. Roundup farm credits for any otherwise eligible student to graduate that is my graduation gift to you. -- You have a special dispensation. -- -- I am humbled to stand here with all of you as an honorary morehouse man. I'll finally made it. And -- I do are mindful of an old saying. You can always tell -- morehouse man. -- -- -- -- -- Then makes my trip -- little more difficult I suppose. But but I think -- also. Reflects the sense of pride. It's always been part of the school's tradition. Benjamin Mays who served as the president of more -- for almost thirty years. Understood that the mission better than anybody. -- -- And I quote it will not be sufficient for morehouse college for every -- for that matter. To produce clever graduates. But rather an honest man. Men who can be. Trusted and public and private life. Men were sensitive to the wrong yet the sufferings. And injustices in society and who are willing to accept responsibility. For correcting those bills. That mission. -- just educate men but to cultivate good man. Strong man. Up right now. The broader community leaders together just two years after the end of the civil war. There is some of the lift up 37 men. Three blacks and freed slaves who would make up the first prospective class but what later became more -- -- Most of those first and had a desire to become teachers and -- That better themselves so they can help others do this -- The center and a half later times -- check. -- -- -- -- Still endorse. Some -- you probably came here from communities where. Everybody looked like you. Others may have come here in search of a community. And I suspect but someone you're probably felt a little bit of culture -- 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're the only student council president. You're suddenly in a group. Of high achievers. And that meant you were expected. To do something -- That's the unique sense of purpose the best -- always -- The conviction that this is a training ground. Not only for individual success but poor leadership the -- the world. Doctor -- was just fifteen years old when he enrolled here at morehouse. -- was an unknown undersized unassuming young freshman who lived at home what does Paris. -- -- it's fair to say he wasn't the coolest kid on campus. The suit he wore his classmates. Called him -- But his education at -- helped to -- the intellect. The discipline the compassion the -- court that would transform America. It was here that he would -- -- to the writings of god. And parole. In the period of Civil Disobedience. It was -- that professors -- and to look past the world the wives and -- for the world and that should be. With Eric Morales is Doctor King later wrote -- I realized. That nobody was afraid. -- -- Some bad weather. -- -- -- -- -- I know -- what I've been. But doctor -- and told me don't out of -- And decided good -- -- away. That's that's a morehouse men. -- -- -- -- about it. -- for black men in the board is -- the practice. The threat of violence. The constant humiliations large and small the uncertainty that you could support -- friendly -- Gnawing doubts born of the Gen-Probe culture that told you every bag that somehow you weren't there. The temptation to shrink from the world. -- -- your place. To avoid risks. To be afraid. That temptation would necessarily strong. And yet here under the tutelage of men like doctor -- Young -- learned to be got a parade. And he in turn taught others to be unafraid. And over time he -- a nation to be unafraid. Over the last fifty years thanks to the moral course of doctor -- And -- generation that overcame their fear and their cynicism and -- despair. Barriers have come tumbling down. New doors of opportunity of swung open. And walls and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you. Could somehow come to served as president -- United States of America. So this -- week. -- Should give you well. The future -- we share should give you hope. -- graduating into an improving job market. You're living at 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 -- Americans that came before. But that doesn't mean we don't have work. Because -- we're honest with ourselves. We know that through fuel. Of our Brothers. Have been opportunities you've -- here morehouse. And troubled neighborhoods all across this country. Many of them heavily African American. To view of our citizens have role models to guide them. It's just a couple miles from my house in Chicago. Community just double miles from here there are places where jobs are still -- and wages are still too low. -- schools underfunded and violent paper bags. We're too many of our young -- spend billions not behind a desk in the classroom but hanging out on the streets. Or brooding. Behind a jail cell. My job the 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 Greg -- good job. And reduce poverty and -- more children and get more -- the security of health care and protect more of our children from the -- of gun violence. That's my job those are matters of public policy and -- the board brought all of us. Black white and brown to advocate for America where everybody's got a -- started like not just some. Not just a -- But along with a collective responsibilities we have individual responsibilities. There are some things as black man. We can only do for ourselves. There are some things as more -- meant that you are obliged to do. For those still left behind. As more -- -- now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you're about to collect. And that's the power your example. So what I ask of you today at the same thing I asked of every graduating class -- Use their power. For something larger than yourself. Live up the president made his challenge. Be sensitive. To the wrong with suffering and injustice -- -- society and be willing to accept responsibility. For correcting those -- I don't some of you came to Morales from communities where life was about keeping your head down. And looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like -- -- state. Now you can take your degree and get them into jobs in the -- -- nice car and never looked back. And don't get me wrong. With all those student loans that they got -- -- you've got -- the money. With the doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine. No one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But. I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition. If all you think about it what good you can -- instead of what good you can group. Stick -- up that law degree but. But it did you ask yourself that the only option is to defend the rich and the powerful. -- you can also find some time to defend the powerless. Sure go -- your MBA or start their business. We need black businesses out there but that's just don't -- broader purpose your business my third in putting people back to work -- transforming a neighborhood. The most successful -- that -- and start intent just don't make good money rather than a vision of how their product or service would change things. And the money follow. Some of you may be headed to medical school to become dobbs. Make sure -- -- folks in underserved communities who really need to. For generations certain groups in this country especially African Americans. I've been desperate need of access to quality affordable health care. In -- society -- finally beginning to change that. Those -- under -- 46 -- options failure parents health care plan. But all of you are heading into an economy where many young people expect not only to have multiple jobs but multiple careers. So starting. October 1. Because of the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obama care you'll be able to shop. -- -- quality affordable plan that's yours and traveled with the a plan noble -- -- not only your help. But your dreams if you are sick or -- get an accident. Morgan -- and doctors to make sure it works to. We've got to make sure everybody has been help in this country it's not just good for you it's good for this country. You're gonna spread the word your -- don't think. Which -- made -- second point. Just -- more -- -- target expect more yourself inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. We know that too many young men and our community continue to make bad -- And I have to say growing up I've made quite a few myself. Sometimes I roll up my own failings. As just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses. Or may not doing the right thing. One of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years. If there's no longer any room for excuse. I understand that there's the common returning to -- hear -- at morehouse. Excuses -- told -- being competent. Used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments. Of nothingness. Well we've got no time -- -- news. Not because the better legacy of slavery and segregation. Have vanished entirely they have not. Because racism and discrimination no longer exist. We know -- still happen. It's just that in today's hyper could. Connected hyper competitive world -- 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 along side -- nobody is going to give you anything that you have not our. Nobody cares how tough -- bring in once. Nobody cares. That you suffered some discrimination. And moreover. You have to remember that whatever you've gone through. It paled in comparison to the hardships previous generations ignored and then overcame them and a -- Overcame them you can overcome a -- You know they'll promote lineage and legacy. Of the measurably strongman. Men aboard tremendous burdens and still -- the stones. For the path on which we now -- You Wear the mantle of Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington. Ralph Bunch of Langston Hughes and George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy and Thurgood Marshall and yes Dr. Martin Luther King Jim. These men were many things to many people. And they knew full well the role that racism played in their lives but when it came. To their own accomplishments. And sense -- purpose they had no time for excuses. Everyone of you have a Gramm. -- -- -- -- a parent -- told you that at some point in life as an African American you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get Bob. Big Brother may have put it even batteries that whatever you do. Robin -- so well that no man living and no man dead and no man yet to be born can -- -- but. And I promise you what was needed -- doctor mayor's done. That's -- -- excellent and hard work and dedication and notes -- this is needed now more than. If you think you can just get over in this economy just -- you -- more -- -- -- You're in for a rude awakening. Reviews -- hunger. If you people often. If you can -- You're grinding get other folks to -- the senate. Nobody could stop you. When -- talk about pursuing excellence and setting an example I'm not just talking about in your professional life. One of today's graduates. -- -- -- -- -- -- I want I want. I know it's random but -- until about -- Bruntlett started his college career in Ohio only to find out that -- high school sweetheart. Back in Georgia was -- -- game back enrolled in morehouse to be closer to her. Pretty -- helping -- new board and working night shifts became too much so he started taking business classes at a technical college -- Doing everything from -- delivering newspapers to mopping hospital floors to support his -- Many wrote. But more -- the second time. Even -- -- job he couldn't keep up with the cost of tuition. So after getting -- degree from the technical school. This -- at three decide to come back tomorrow -- the third time. His -- that god the plan for my life. That is not done would. Yet. Today Fredricka is that family man and they are working men and more often meant and that's what I'm asking all of -- do. Setting an example for what it means the -- man. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Best father you can -- your children. Things more port. I was -- -- heroic single mom wonderful grandparents. Made incredible sacrifices for me and I know there -- moms and grandparents here today at the same thing for all of you. But I sure wish I had a father was not only present but -- ball. -- know my dad. My whole life I've tried to be -- Michelle and my girls what my father was not -- my mother and me. I want to break that cycle. What -- nodded home. -- above is not helping to live that's older daughter. Want to be a better father. A better husband. A better man. It's hard work. The demands -- constant attention and frequent sacrifice. And I promise you Michelle -- I'm not perfect. -- you've got a long list of my imperfections. Even now I'm still practicing I'm still learning. Still getting corrected in terms of how to mediate finds a husband and a good father. But I I will tell you -- everything else is unfulfilled. If we let them. If we fail at that responsibility. I know that when I am on my deathbed someday. I will not be thinking about any particular legislation -- -- -- I will not be thinking about a policy -- promote. -- -- not thinking about the speech I -- I will not be thinking about the Nobel Prize -- -- -- -- be thinking about that walked out took with my dogs. We think it about a labor afternoon what my one. I'll be thinking about sit around the dinner table and seeing them happy and help. And knowing that they were loved and I'll be thinking about whether I did right by all of that. Some good role model. Set a good example for that young brother coming. If you know somebody who's not on board go back and and bring my brother along. Those who've been left behind whoever had the same opportunity as we head they need to hear from you. You've got to be a date. On the barbershop. On the basketball court. At church. Spend time. Energy and present that to give people. Opportunities and a chance pull them up exposed that. Support their dreams don't put him down. We've got to teach them. Dislike what we have to learn what it means to bigamy. Conservative city like Maynard Jackson. To -- the culture like sparkling. To be like -- Davenport. One of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia -- hope when he got there nobody would sit next to him in class. But just didn't mind. Later -- he said it was the right thing for me to do. Someone needed to be the first and today just -- here celebrating its fiftieth reunion words just another book. So -- bad role model. Fathers Brothers like that thank them today. If you haven't commit yourself. To being -- man somebody else. And finally as you do these things and not just for yourself but don't even don't just for the African American community. I want you say it's not spiked higher. -- the turn of the last century WB the boy but spoke about. The talented yet. A class of highly educated socially conscious leaders in the black community. But it's not just the African American community that needs you. In the country needs you. The world needs you. As more -- many of you know what it's like to be an outside. -- like to be marginal I know what it's like to -- -- string of sting of discrimination. And that's an experience that. A lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asked them where they come from -- tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel illustrator pass judgment on their parenting skills of love the picture. Muslim Americans feel it when their stared at with suspicion because of their -- Any woman who knows -- and dozens of earning less paper doing the same work she knows what it's like to be on the outside looking in. So your experiences. Give -- special insight. -- -- -- -- -- If you tap into that experience. It should endow you with empathy. The understanding of what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes. To see through their alliance. To know what it is like when you're not born on third base thinking you made -- trip. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers. And I'll tell you class of 2013 whatever success I have a -- Whatever positions of leadership I -- have depended -- on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPA's. And have instead been due to that sense of connection -- -- this. There but for the grace of god go I might abandon their shoes I might -- president. I'm out of bed unemployed. -- not a better able to support a family and that. Motivates me. But -- it's up to you to widened her circle of concern. The care about justice for everybody. White black and brown. Everybody not just in your own community but all across this country and -- world. To make sure everyone has -- and everybody gets the seat of the today. Everybody no matter what you look like or where you come from. What your last name is where. It doesn't matter everybody gets -- chance. -- to walk through. Through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough. When -- Shelton was -- -- -- whereas William. -- -- -- -- until almost four years old social services took him away from his mom. Put him in the care of his grandparents. By age fourteen he was in the -- -- Three years after that Leland enrolled in -- And today he has graduated. Five -- up. Obama on his way. The Harvard law through. Not -- then there. -- -- -- Of the national -- can argue and alumni policy council he plans to use his law degree. To make sure kids like you know -- through the -- And it won't matter whether they're black or brown gains -- why can't -- native American gets. Because he'll understand what they're going to vote. Until we fight for -- He'll be on -- in their corner. That's leadership. At the morehouse man right there. That's what we've come to expect from you morehouse a legacy of leaders not just an -- black community but for the entire American commitment. To recognize burdens you Kerry -- -- but to resist the temptation to use them as excuses. To transform the way we think about manhood. And set higher standards for ourselves and problems. To be successful but also to understand that each of us -- responsibilities. Not just to ourselves. But to one another and to future generations. Men who refuse to be afraid. Man who refuse. To be afraid. Member of the class 2013 your heirs. To a great legacy. You have within you that's encouraged -- -- story. The same resolve the man who came before him. That's what being -- -- -- is all about. That's what being American is all about. And so this may not come quickly or easily. But if you strive to do what's wrong. If you work harder and dream bigger. -- -- set an example in -- own lives and do your part to help meet the challenges of our times that I am confident that we will continue the never ending task. A perfected are you congratulations left 13 -- god bless you. And more often don't both the United States of America.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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