President Barack Obama told graduates at a historically black university that they had “responsibilities” to help others rise above joblessness, depressed wages and widespread violence in their communities.
“If we’re being honest with ourselves, too few of our brothers and sisters have the opportunities you’ve had here,” Obama said a commencement addresses at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “In troubled neighborhoods all across the country - many of them heavily African-American - too few of our citizens have role models to guide them.”
In his second commencement address this year, Obama touted the health care overhaul that he signed into law in his first term, and defended the role of government to improve people’s lives. He also tailored his message for his audience, recounting some of his own personal struggles, as well as the excuses he made for them.
“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. “But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
“There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” he said. “There are some things, as Morehouse Men, that you are obliged to do for those still left behind.”
While the graduating class will confront a job market that may be affected by the automatic spending cuts that went into effect March 1, Obama told them that their prospects were bright.
“You’re graduating into a job market that’s improving,” he said. “You live in a time when advances in technology and communications puts the world at your fingertips.”
American employers added more workers than forecast in April, sending the unemployment rate down to a four-year low of 7.5 percent. More Americans than projected filed claims for jobless benefits last week and manufacturing in the Philadelphia region unexpectedly shrank in May, signs that a slowdown in growth is rippling through the U.S. economy.
Later, at a fundraising event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Obama offered a less rosy view of the economy.
Speaking of the Morehouse graduates, Obama said “they are entering into a job market that is still challenging.”
“Because of some policies in Washington, like the sequester,” Obama said of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that took effect March 1, “growth may end up slowing and we may see once again the job market stall.”
Founded in 1867, Morehouse offers an all-male undergraduate education and counts civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King among its alumni. King, who entered Morehouse at age 15 “wasn’t the coolest kid on campus,” Obama said. “For the suits he wore, his classmates called him ‘‘Tweed.’’’
The president wove details of his own story into his address, how he struggled as a young man and the role his mother and grandparents played in his life and the hole left by a father who wasn’t there to raise him.
‘‘I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me,’’ he said. ‘‘But 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,” he said.
Thunder accompanied Obama to the podium under a covered stage on the campus’s outdoor quad, and as he started to speak, rain began to fall. Addressing audience members, many of them wearing plastic trash bags, he acknowledged the obvious. “I also have to tell you you’re all going to get wet,” he said.