Academics

President Obama delivers virtual HBCU commencement address

The former president laid out challenges for the class of 2020.

One of the hallmark moments of the HBCU experience took on a different twist Saturday with a virtual commencement. Former President Barack Obama delivered a roughly eight-minute address focusing on the current state of affairs and the world ahead for the class of 2020. The speech was a part of the #ShowMeYourWalk virtual event.

Within the first two minutes of the address, Obama name-dropped six different HBCUs.

“Now look, I know this isn’t the commencement any of you really imagined. Because while our H.B.C.U.s are mostly known for an education rooted in academic rigor, community, higher purpose — they also know how to turn up. Nobody shines quite like a senior on the yard in springtime. Springfest at schools like Howard and Morehouse, that’s the time when you get to strut your stuff a little bit. And I know that in normal times, rivals like Grambling and Southern, Jackson State and Tennessee State, might raise some eyebrows at sharing a graduation ceremony,” Obama said.

Speaking on current events

The first point Obama made was about the disparities brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also weaved in a mention of the Ahmaud Arbery murder case in Georgia.

“And let’s be honest — a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning,” he said.

President Obama has been the subject of many false claims recently by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Obama delivered a veiled response without mentioning Trump by name.

More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.

Challenge for graduates

Obama would go on to challenge the students to get involved in their local communities, find allies in their struggle, and reminded graduates of the responsibility of being role models.

“That’s the power you hold. The power to shine brightly for justice, and for equality, and for joy. You’ve earned your degree. And it’s up to you to use it. So many of us believe in you. I’m so proud of you. And as you set out to change the world, we’ll be the wind at your back,” Obama concluded.

The former president also recorded an address for high school seniors that aired on Saturday night. The full transcript of his HBCU address can be read here.

President Obama delivers virtual HBCU commencement address
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