President Obama Delivers Commencement Speech at Hampton University

Obama urges historic African-American college to use education as civic tool.

May 09, 2010, 6:23 PM

HAMPTON, Va., May 9, 2010 -- President Obama traveled to southern Virginia today to deliver a commencement speech to Hampton University's newest crop of graduates. Addressing a crowd of roughly 1,000 awaiting their diplomas, Obama stressed the importance of their education not only as a tool in finding work but as a step toward being more responsible citizens.

"Now that your minds have been opened, it's up to you to keep them that way," Obama told the crowd, "and it will be up to you to open minds that remain closed."

The president elaborated using talk shows and the 24 hour-news cycle as examples of where their education could be used to sort the truth from spin and opinion.

The event took place in the packed football stadium of the traditionally African-American university; parents and students crammed under a sunny, open sky to watch the event.

The president acknowledged that many in the class would be emerging into a tight job market, spurned on by the global economic recession. The most recent administration jobs report showed that the 290,000 jobs gained in April weren't enough to keep unemployment from creeping to 9.9 percent nationally.

But, Obama said, the graduating class has at least one edge:

"The unemployment rate for folks who've never gone to college is over twice as high as it is for folks with a college degree or more."

Hampton University traces its roots to the education of freed black slaves during the Civil War and claims educator and civil rights leader Booker T. Washington among its early alumni. University President William Harvey sits on the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Remember the Work of Dorothy Height

Obama told students to memorialize the recent passing of civil rights activist Dorothy Height by remaining vigilant in public discourse and holding their government accountable.

"That refusal to accept a lesser fate; that insistence on a better life is ultimately the secret of America's success," he said.

Obama was awarded an honorary law degree at the ceremony.

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