President Barack Obama returned to the Hampton Unversity campus yesterday to give a commencement speech in which he cited the struggle of African Americans to gain the right to an education.
President Obama's presence at the podium was met with a roar of clapping and cheering and a shout from the crowd: "I love you." "I love you back, that's why I'm here," the President replied.
In his commencement speech, he said the founders of Hampton University and all historically black colleges knew that the inequality wouldn't vanish overnight but that an education was the place to start.
He quoted Frederick Douglass, saying that "education ... means emancipation," and told graduates that their college degrees are more important than ever, because high school diplomas are no longer a ticket to a solid middle-class life.
"All those checks you or your parents wrote to Hampton will pay off," he said. "You are in a strong position to out compete workers around the world."
Obama spoke of disparity in academic achievement, with blacks being outperformed by their white classmates, and rich students outperforming poor students, no matter their skin color. All Americans have a responsibility to change that, he said.
"Be role models for your brothers and sisters," Obama told graduates. "Be mentors in your communities. And when the time comes, pass that sense of an education's value down to your children."
President Barack Obama accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Hampton University after the speecch. He also was given an athletic jersey with "Hampton University" on one side and "President Barack Obama" on the other. "He promised me he's going to wear it, so you'll see it on TV," Hampton University President William Harvey said.