Barack Obama's HBCU Speech Was Perfect With Dad Jokes, Trump Takedowns And A Statement About Ahmaud Arbery

Washington, D.C. — On Saturday, May 7 at Howard University Upper Quandrangle University Campus, Presient Barack Obama gives the commencement speech at the 148th Commencement Convocation.  (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto)

Barack Obama's HBCU Speech Was Perfect With Dad Jokes, Trump Takedowns And A Statement About Ahmaud Arbery

Read his full remarks to the 2020 graduating class.

Published 2 weeks ago

Written by BET Staff

Our forever president Barack Obama showed up for the graduating class of 2020 with a perfect speech during Chase's Show Me Your Walk extravaganza, honoring this year's HBCU grads. His remarks were uplifting and hilarious — complete with his signature dad jokes — and he even included some lines that will surely have President Donald Trump tweeting late into the night.

Read his full remarks, below:

Graduating from college is a big achievement under any circumstances, and so many of you overcame a lot to get here. You navigated challenging classes, and challenges outside the classroom. Many of you had to stretch to afford tuition, and some of you are the first in your families to achieve this milestone. So even if half the semester was spent at Zoom university, you should be very proud. Everybody who supported you along the way is proud of you: parents, grandparents, professors, mentors, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins — cousins who you aren't even sure are cousins. Show them some gratitude today.

Now look, I know this isn't the commencement any of you really imagined. Because while our HBCUs 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. Spring Fest 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.

But these aren't normal times. You're being asked to find your way in the world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession. The timing is not ideal. And let's be honest: a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that Black communities 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 people think they can ask him questions and shoot him if he doesn't submit to their questions. 

Injustice like this isn't new. What is new is that so many of your generation have woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing. That the old ways don't work. And that it doesn't matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick. That our society and our democracy only works when we think not only about ourselves, but about each other. 

More than anything, this pandemic has fully and finally pulled 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. If the world's gonna get better, it's going to be up to you. With everything suddenly feeling like it's up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative. Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore, "this is how it's always been done." More than ever, this is your moment. Your generation's world to shape. And taking on this responsibility, I hope you're bold. I hope you have a vision that isn't clouded by cynicism or fear. As young African Americans, you've been exposed earlier than some to the world as it is. But as young HBCU grads, your education has shown you the world as it ought to be. 

Many of you could have chosen to pursue your education at any university, but you chose an HBCU specifically because it would help you sow seeds of change. You chose to follow in the footsteps of people who shook the system to its core. Civil rights icons like Thurgood Marshall and Dr. King, storytellers like Toni Morrison and Spike Lee. You chose to study medicine at Meharry and engineering at NCANT because you want to lead and serve. And I'm here to tell you, you made a great choice. Whether you realize it or not, you've got more roadmaps, more role models, more resources than the civil rights generation did. You've got more tools, technology and talents than my generation did. No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world.

Now, I'm not gonna tell you what to do with all that power that's in your hands. Many of you are already using it so well to create change. But let me offer three pieces of advice as you continue on your journey. First: make sure you ground yourself in actual communities, with real people, working, whenever you can, at the grassroots level. The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, even righteous anger. But don't just activate yourself online. Change requires strategy, action, organizing, marching and voting — in the real world, like never before. No one is better positioned than this class of graduates to take that activism to the next level. And from tackling health disparities to fighting for criminal justice and voting rights, so many of you are already doing this. Keep on going.

Second: you can't do it alone. Meaningful change requires allies and common cause. As African Americans, we are particularly attuned to injustice and inequality and struggle, but that also should make us more alive to the experiences of others who have been left out and discriminated against. So, rather than just say, "what's in it for me?" or "what's in it for my community, and to heck with everyone else," stand up for and join up with everyone who's struggling — whether it's immigrants, refugees, the rural poor, the LGBT community, low income workers of every background, women who are so often subject to their own discriminations, and not getting equal pay for equal work. Look out for folks whether they are white or Black or Asian or Latino or Native American. As Fanny Lou Hamer once said, "nobody's free until everybody's free." And on the big, unfinished goals in this country, like economic and environmental justice and healthcare for everybody, broad majorities agree on the ends. That's why folks with power will keep trying to divide you over the means. That's how nothing changes. You get a system that looks out for the rich and powerful and nobody else. So, expand your moral imaginations. Build bridges. Grow your allies in the process of bringing about a better world. 

And finally, as HBCU graduates, you have to remember that you are inheritors of one of America's proudest traditions. You're all role models, whether you like it or not. Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what's right, your willingness to forge coalitions. These actions will speak volumes. And, if you're inactive, that will also speak volumes. Not just to the young folks coming up behind you, but to your parents, your peers, and the rest of the country. They need to see your leadership. You're the folks we've been waiting for to come along. That's the power you hold. The power to shine brightly for justice and for equality and for joy. 

You've earned your degree. It's now 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. 

So congratulations, Class of 2020. God bless all of you.

Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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