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Obama gets personal about race, manhood in Morehouse College speech

President Obama yesterday summoned the graduates of historically black Morehouse College to “transform the way we think about manhood,” urging the young men to avoid the temptation to make excuses and to take responsibility for their families and their communities.

Delivering a commencement address at the all-male private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Obama spoke in deeply personal terms about the “special obligation” he feels as a black man to help those left behind.

“There but for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes,” Obama said. “I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family – and that motivates me.”

The president also reflected on the absence of his father growing up, noting that he was raised by a “heroic single mother” and urged the young graduates not to shrink from their family responsibilities.

“My whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me,” Obama said. “I want to break that cycle – where a father’s not at home, where a father’s not helping to raise that son and daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.”

In his 32-minute address, Obama was far more personal and reflective in his remarks than he traditionally has been, especially on matters of racial discrimination. Obama delivered a similar speech three years ago when he addressed the graduates of Hampton University in Virginia, another historically black college.

He paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse alumnus, noting that King’s education there “helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America.”

Obama added: “Laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as president of these United States.”

Yet Obama acknowledged that “the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation” have not vanished, that discrimination still exists.

“As Morehouse men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider, to be marginalized, to feel the sting of discrimination. That’s an experience that a lot of Americans share,” Obama said.

Hispanic-Americans, Obama lamented, are told to “go back” home while strangers pass judgment on the parenting skills of gay men and lesbians or stare at Muslim-Americans with suspicion.

Obama said that too many young black men make “bad choices.”

“Growing up, I made quite a few myself,” Obama said. “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing.”

But, the president implored, “we’ve got no time for excuses.”

“In today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said. “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”

“Moreover,” Obama continued, “you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured – and if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

Obama told the graduates they needed to be role models for others in their communities and not just chase after high-paying jobs and fancy cars. If they get a law degree, he told the graduates, they shouldn’t defend only the powerful, but also the powerless. If they get an MBA and start a business, Obama said, they shouldn’t merely try to make money, but also consider the broader purpose their business might serve.

“No one expects you to take a vow of poverty,” Obama said. “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.”

Legacy Comments9

Reagan had the best commencement speech of all time....he mentioned he was a "C" student. He often wondered what he could have become if he had applied himself

Here we go again. Obama praised, Ayotte trashed. I read the President's speech and I felt it was one of the few he has given that was actually terrific. He actually sounded a bit like Bill Cosby, saying get on with it and stop the excuses. As far as Ayotte goes, I thought her speech also was terrific. What they both had in common was that they addressed going after your future. don't give up and stay focused. . What else they both had in common, is that both speeches left out politics. That is what made both speeches terrific.

"Obama said, they shouldn’t merely try to make money, but also consider the broader purpose their business might serve."...Interesting. Broader purpose?? Might serve??

It's usually thought of in terms of "making the world a little better place than it was before." Perhaps you've heard of the concept?

Bottom line, it is all platitudes; plain and simple. Businesses are commerce and commerce is not charity. Now, if you are wildly successful, then you more than likely would contribute. If I won the lottery, I would give much of it away. However, most small businesses will never yield the entrepreneur the kind of income to give much of what they make away. You give back when you pay a good wage, provide health insurance and benefits like vacation. You give back when you give a person hungry for a job and opportunity or pay their tuition to go back to school. We ought not look for much more than that from people who invest their lives in building something. Obama did miss something, however, he should have said "don't rely on a free ride because of the color of your skin or your gender, it is time for you to stand alone with your natural talent and ambition"

Come on GWTW - you're beginning to sound like another poster, everything is a conspiracy. Change the person speaking and it could be any parent talking to their child telling them to act responsible in life, there is more to life than just money, don't ask for others to care of you and take care of the children you have. As I wrote that I realized there must be a lot of parents out there that never did say that to their kids growing up. And thus, you have what we have today.

Thats the probemo Jim. We do not have parents telling their kids to be responsible. Just the opposite in fact. That role has been laid on teachers, the village and the govt. We had no clue when Hillary said "It takes a village" that she actually meant, we give parents a pass and expet others to step into the role of parenting. Much of that load was laid on teachers. And as a result we are seeing how our education system is now in the condition it is in.


Your business is supposed to make money. Your personal life is for the broader purposes. Believe me, running a business in todays economy is about making it, with little time for anything else.

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