Rain or shine, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama withheld their commitments and gave commencement speeches at two HBCU graduation ceremonies this weekend.
While both Obamas made extraordinary points, Michelle was spot on about education issues that affect African Americans and Barack stressed the importance of giving back to the community.
Check out our favorite excerpts and lessons from both must-hear speeches below.
1. Giving back is just has important has working toward your dreams. (President Obama)
“I know some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like you escaped, and you can take your degree, get a fancy job and never look back. And don’t get me wrong – with the heavy weight of student loans, with doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could scarcely imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do. Yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless,” the President said. “Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business, we need black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood.”
“The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent on making money, rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed,” he added.
2. Inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. (President Obama)
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down,” he said. “I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
3. Career success means nothing without success at home. (President Obama)
“I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.” he said. “Even now, I’m still learning how to be the best husband and father I can be. Because success in everything else is unfulfilling if we fail at family.”
“I know that when I’m on my deathbed someday, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted. I won’t be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received,” he continued. “I’ll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters, a lazy afternoon with my wife, whether I did right by all of them.”
4. A degree is not everything. (President Obama)
“Whatever success I achieved, whatever positions of leadership I’ve held, have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of empathy and connection – the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who needed it most; people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had, because but for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes. So it’s up to you to widen your circle of your concern – to create greater justice both in your own community, but also across our country. To make sure everyone has a voice; everyone gets a seat at the table; to make sure that everyone – no matter what they look like or where they come from, or who they love – gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they want it bad enough.”
5. Too many young people fantasize about becoming ball players and rappers, opposed to teachers and lawyers. (First Lady Michelle)
“Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of ‘separate but equal,’ when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” she said and the audience applauded. “Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school. Only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree — one in five.”
6. Education is for everybody. (First Lady Michelle)
“As my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that,” she said. “In short, be an example of excellence for the next generation.”
7. People who are more educated live longer. (First Lady Michelle)
“Today, getting an education is as important if not more important than it was back when this university was founded. Just look at the statistics. [Applause] People who earn a bachelor’s degree or higher make nearly three times more money than high school dropouts, and they’re far less likely to be unemployed. A recent study even found that African American women with a college degree live an average of six and a half years longer than those without. And for men, it’s nearly 10 years longer. So yes, people who are more educated actually live longer.”
8. Be proactive. (First Lady Michelle)
“If the school in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don’t just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children’s promise.”
“And when it comes to your own kids, if you don’t like what they’re watching on TV, turn it off. [Applause] If you don’t like the video games they’re playing, take them away. [Applause] Take a stand against the media that elevates today’s celebrity gossip instead of the serious issues of our time. Take a stand against the culture that glorifies instant gratification instead of hard work and lasting success.”
Check out the full-length speeches below and weigh in on your favorite parts in the comment section.
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1. Debra Lee
"My favorite thing about the President is his commitment to people and the world [and] his ability to listen; the fact that he's smart and he has smart people around him; the way he empathizes with people. The way he handled the Newtown situation was just really incredible, and he's done that with all the issues that have come along during his first term. I'm looking forward to him being more comfortable going around and knowing the politics and accomplishing a lot more."
2. Tatyana Ali
"He smells good." [laughs] "The thing that I love about him, is his humility. He's really a humble man and he's a servant and that's not hype. He's here to be of service and I love that from a leader."
3. Ben Jealous-NAACP President
"He's cool. He has poise and swagger. He has cleaned his opponent two times in a row, and that's the best thing a president can do."
4. Boris Kodjoe
"I just like his leadership and swag. He's so aware of what the world needs. He's selfless. He has integrity, pride and commitment."
5. Mikki Taylor
"I think the most amazing thing about President Obama is he is his most authentic self and very much like the First Lady. He means what he says and he says what he means. He's not impacted by the impression of others. He says with great affirmation, 'We, the people.' That is what swells my heart with great joy."
6. Wilmer Valderamma
"He's one of the first presidents since Bill Clinton that we've been able to feel he's with us, right next to us. He feels like a neighbor to us. I respect his commitment to his agenda and looking forward to seeing a more aggressive Obama in the next four years and taking the knowledge and experience he's had in the last four years and implementing it with a sense of urgency. I hope he immediately attacks the immigration reform, which is what the Latin community really needs--to see the president is confident and the same time, honor the people who helped vote him in. Gay and lesbian rights is very important and and most importantly unite all cultures. I'm excited because he's a defining president and it feels like he's found a groove."
7. Wayne Brady
"Not only is he the leader of the free world--and this isn't because of race--he's the coolest president next to Bill Clinton, that we've ever had. When it's time to be stern, he does the 'president' thing. But then who busts out and sings, 'I'm so in love with you...' If he's not the coolest president, just for that? He gives orders to our nation's fleets and busts out Al Green. He wins."
8. Gabrielle Union
"Is it weird to say that he's black? All the things I'm thinking of, I so can't say!" [laughs] "You can see that he loves his wife and he loves his daughters. He's raising these two dope, beautiful, funny black women to be strong, fly and independent."
9. MC Lyte
"He remains calm in situations where it's most likely that others would be more revved up. Out of that calmness, we're able to see his vulnerability."
10. Kenny Lattimore
"I have a song called 'Built For Last,' and it speaks about the heart of a man I believe as a great leader, when I look at this man and the tenacity and he stands so confident, in spite of every obstacle and things that are thrown at him--it's an amazing characteristic. It's the reason we confide in him."
11. Judge Mathis
"His swag. He got it from me. I knew him from Chicago and we used to hang a little together. He saw my walk, and now he's president and I see him walking like me." [laughs]
12. Shaun Robinson
"I just think that he's a great role model. He's an honest man and he wants the best for everyone. I love the way he looks at his wife, Michelle. Every woman looks at him and how he looks at Michelle, like, 'Oh my God! That's so amazing!'"