President Obama Gives Howard University Graduates a Lecture on 'Change'

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks during the commencement ceremony for Howard University in Washington, May 7, 2016.SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks during the commencement ceremony for Howard University in Washington, May 7, 2016.

Delivering the keynote speech at Howard University's commencement ceremony, President Obama found himself lecturing the young African American graduates on the lessons he had learned of how to create change in their communities.

Obama began his speech by urging the black students to reflect that they couldn't choose a better time "to be young, gifted and black in America."

"I tell you all this because it's important to know progress," Obama said. "Because to deny how far we've come would do a disservice to the cause of justice."

Obama, who had just motorcaded from the White House with acclaimed author of "Between the World and Me" Ta-Nehisi Coates, told the students to "be confident in your blackness," saying they must also continue to hold close "our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle."

"That means we cannot sleepwalk through life," he said.

While Obama said he encouraged activism in all forms, he said what has been lost in many young activists he sees today a willingness to compromise or work through America's democratic channels.

Specifically pointing out the Black Lives Matter movement, Obama told the graduates "change requires more than righteous anger," and specifically targeted those who have tried to shut down political rallies.

"Don't do that," Obama said. "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.'"

Obama closed out his lecture on "change" by evoking another one of his signature campaign slogans, reminding students, "Yes we can."

It's the first of three commencement addresses Obama will deliver in his final year as president. He will also speak to graduates of Rutgers University on May 15 and the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 2.