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President Barack Obama Urges the Morehouse Class of 2013 to Lead By Example

President Obama Receives Honorary Degree

Morehouse’s class of 2013 has to be an example of the leadership young men – especially black men – must contribute to society, President Barack Obama said during the rain-drenched 129th Commencement ceremony.


“There are some things as black men we can only do for ourselves,” President Obama said as a wet, but appreciative crowd cheered and snapped photos.  “There are some things as Morehouse Men that you are obliged to do for those left behind.


“You wield something even more powerful than the diploma you are about to collect, and that’s the power of your example.  So what I ask for you today is the same thing that I ask of every graduating class that I speak to: use that power for something larger than yourself.  Live up to President [Benjamin E.] Mays’ challenge.  Be sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings and injustices of society and be willing to accept responsibility for correcting those wills.”


Heavy rain and lightening shortened the tradition-clad ceremony, but it didn’t dampen the festive spirit of the 10,000 family, friends and alumni who watched as African drummers led the approximately 570 graduates into the Century Campus.


 “This has been a historical blessing, even in the rain,” said Thomasina Williams as she sat wearing a poncho.  She was there with her husband, Garrett, and two rows of family members to watch her son, computer science major Garrett Williams Jr. graduate.


“To have the president of the United States to speak at his commencement, we’re just so excited and don’t even care about the weather,” she said. “We’re just excited that he has made it this far and the president can honor him in doing so.”


President Obama became a Morehouse Man himself as he was presented with the honorary Doctor of Laws by Robert C. Davidson ’67, chairman of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees, Morehouse President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. ’79 and Willis B. Sheftall Jr. ’64, interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.


On stage, President Obama was joined by the four living Morehouse presidents: Leroy Keith ’61, Walter E. Massey ’58, Robert M. Franklin Jr. ’75 and current president, John Silvanus Wilson Jr. ’79.


“Indeed this is a very special occasion for everyone assembled here today, and especially for the young men who have worked so hard and long to earn their degrees,” Wilson said.  “And they have earned the privilege of being called Morehouse Men.”


The entire scene provided the graduates with just a sense that there is no impossible or unbelievable if they have the audacity to hope, said valedictorian Betesegaw Tadele.


“It is this very attitude, this willingness to challenge the naysayers and scoffers that will take us, members of the dynamic Morehouse College class of 2013, to places never dreamed before, all because we came to an institution called Morehouse College,” Tadele said in his valedictory.  “All because we came to a place that enabled us to grow, develop, achieve, believe and excel.  And for this, our hearts forever sing, ‘Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit, make us honest steadfast and true.  To old Morehouse, and her ideals, and in all things that we do.”