And POTUS did not disappoint.
He told the 2,300-plus grads from this HBCU to “be confident in your heritage” and “be confident of your blackness.” (Messages that most likely no other president before him has told the historically Black college.) He also stressed that they “create your own style, set your own standard of beauty, embrace your own sexuality.”
President Obama also admitted that being elected as the first Black president in no way means that we are living in a post-racial America, despite the racial progress that has been made, NPR noted. Hence, the president encouraged this class to continue to “push for change” in order to “shape our collective future.” And one way to do that he stressed, was to participate in the political process, including local, state and national elections.
“[Vote] not just some of the time but all of the time. When we don’t vote we give away our power,” he said.
In addition, POTUS also gave a shout out to Beyoncé and Shonda Rhimes in his speech.
“A lot of folks didn’t even think blacks had the tools to be a quarterback,” Obama said.
“When I was a graduate, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T. Rap and hip-hop were counter-culture. Now [Rhimes] owns Thursday night and Beyonce runs the world,” he added.
POTUS also talked about a slew of other issues including income inequality, the 2016 presidential campaign and disparities in unemployment, pay and criminal justice, The Hollywood Reporter noted. He also talked about global problems such as terrorism and health disparities, which he urged that Americans not ignore. Other speech highlights included:
On being confident:
“You need to have the same level of confidence [as Prince].Or as my daughters tell me all the time, ‘You be you, Daddy.’ Sometimes Sasha puts a variation on it: ‘You do you, Daddy.’”
On how Blackness isn’t monolithic:
“There’s no one way to be black. Take it from somebody who’s seen both sides of the debate about whether I’m black enough. The past couple of months I’ve had lunch with the Queen of England and hosted Kendrick Lamar in the Oval Office.”
On supporting those in our community who are not as fortunate:
“We have cousins, and uncles, and brothers, and sisters, who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were but somehow got ground down by structures that were unfair and unjust, and that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African-Americans who haven’t been so lucky.”
On what the future holds:
“So make no mistake Class of 2016. You’ve got plenty of work to do. But as complicated and intractable as these challenges may see, the truth is your generation is better position than any before you to meet those challenges.”
On letting the opposition speak:
Don’t do that, 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. Let them talk!”
On what how else we can create change:
“Change requires more than righteous anger. It requires a program and it requires organizing.”
Oh and did we mention that during the ceremony he sat next to iconic actress Cicely Tyson?
And he received an honorary doctorate degree too?
And the crowd was here for all of it.
As was Twitter:
Congrats to Howard’s Class of 2016 and all of those graduating this spring!