President Obama before receiving his honorary doctorate of law degree, after delivering the commencement address during a ceremony at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Photo: MANDEL NGAN AFP/Getty Images)
(USA Today) -- President Obama told the graduating class at Morehouse College, the country's preeminent historically black college, on Sunday said there is "no longer any room for excuses" for this generation of African-American men and that it was time for their generation to step up professionally and in their personal lives.
Obama, the county's first African-American president, chose a particularly poignant moment in the school's and African-American history to deliver the commencement address at the Atlanta college that boasts Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, filmmaker Spike Lee and Atlanta's first African-American mayor Maynard Jackson among its alumni .
Obama's visit comes nearly 50 years after King. led the March on Washington, and ahead of 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The president connected his own path to the White House to the work of King and other African-American leaders of that generation. But Obama also conceded that at times as a young man he wrongly blamed his own failings "as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down."
"We've got no time for excuses - not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven't," Obama told the graduating class and their family who sat through intermittent rain and thunder. "It's just that in today's hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven't earned. "
Obama spoke in very personal terms to the 500 young men as he urged them to not only become leaders in their community, but also good fathers and good husbands. Obama, who was raised by single mother and grandparents, lamented the absence of his father in his life and urged the graduates to make family their top priority.
Obama told the Morehouse men they are also obliged to set an example for other black men.
"Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man," Obama said. "Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important."
In the weeks ahead of the commencement, a spat between the college administration and alumni over the role a Philadelphia pastor would play during graduation weekend threatened to cast a shadow on the president's historic visit.
Morehouse President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. and a group of alumni sparred after Wilson invited alumnus Kevin Johnson to deliver the baccalaureate sermon only to later to diminish his role.
Wilson, a former adviser in the Obama administration, told Johnson he was changing the ceremony to a multi-speaker format after Johnson wrote an op-ed in a Philadelphia newspaper criticizing the president for appointing too few African-Americans to senior Cabinet positions.
A dozen prominent alumni spoke out against the decision and Johnson initially refused to take part in the baccalaureate under a multi-speaker format.
But last week, Wilson and Johnson came to a resolution and Johnson delivered the baccalaureate sermon, while two recent alumni were given lesser speaking roles.
In his speech, Obama also connected the discrimination that the African-Americans have faced with some of the struggles of minority groups-including gays and lesbians fighting for the right to marriage, Hispanic Americans battling anti-immigrant bias and Muslims who face suspicion because of their faith.
With their own personal understanding of discrimination, Obama said this generation of African-American is uniquely equipped to be leaders for the country and world on these issues.
"If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy - the understanding of what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes," Obama said. "It should give you an ability to connect. It should give you a sense of what it means to overcome barriers."