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May 08 2016
by Daja Henry

President Obama Delivers Powerful Commencement Speech at Howard University

By Daja Henry - May 08 2016

In one of the "best and blackest" speeches he's given, President Obama addressed Howard University's graduating class of 2016. In this speech, he gave a powerful charge to students to change the world and commended them for attending "a centerpiece of African-American intellectual life, and a central part of our larger American story." He quoted many black history greats such as Dr. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Howard alumna Zora Neale Hurston, and more, while lacing the speech with down-to-earth jokes. The speech was highly personalized for Howard's students, with anecdotal mentions of staples in Howard's culture, from the most suspicious yet most popular Howard eatery to the "Howard hustle" that has placed the school among elites.

Stemming from his main premise, or a "hot take," as he called it, that America is in a better state than it was when he graduated college (and of course, since he's taken office), he urged students to be great. Though there are many problems still plaguing our country, he tells the graduating class that they are in a great position to change the world, a position where Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights and Beyonce runs the world. He gives these instructions:

1. "Be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your blackness."

"There's no litmus test for authenticity," he says. "In the past couple months, I’ve had lunch with the Queen of England and hosted Kendrick Lamar in the Oval Office." 

He goes on to speak on the diversity of Howard University. He quotes many a student's initial reaction when stepping on campus, "They got black people in Iowa?"

2. Don't Forget the Tie That Binds Us (African-Americans): "our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle."

From slavery onto the injustices that plague our community now, he contends that African-Americans should be able to "expand moral imaginations to empathize with all people who are struggling." He cites the school-to-prison pipeline, higher unemployment rates in African-Americans, and more.  

He also gives a shout-out to Ciearra Jefferson, one of the graduating seniors, who embodied that struggle and came out on top. 

  • 3. "You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy."

Vote, vote, vote! He urges students to register to vote. By not voting, he says, "we give up our power. We disenfranchise ourselves."

via Flickr Creative Commons

He also urges students to learn to compromise and work with people with differing opinions. "Democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right," he says. He gives the examples of Dr. King's powerful speeches but also his meetings with President Johnson. 

Also, he cites his work with Brittany Packnett, one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement, now part of his policing task force. Some other organizers refused to work with the President's office, "out of some sense of ideological purity," and that is how their ideas remain ideas.

With those words, he invoked such a sense of pride in not only Howard University, but black people around the world, that will remain for years to come. 

Lead Image Credit: Twitter, @theobamadiary

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Daja Henry - Howard University

Daja Henry is a sophomore Media, Journalism, and Film Communications major at Howard University. She is a writer, lyric connoisseur, and lover of all cultures. You can follow her on Twitter @dajaeh97.

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