Obama’s Odd Graduation Speech
Graduation speeches are a time when young people will listen to their elders. It’s an opportunity for older people to impart some hard-earned wisdom on young ears. On May 7, 2016, President Barack Obama gave the Commencement Ceremony speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Students at the historically black college are 91% African-American, with an additional 3.5% “non-resident alien,” some of which could be black foreigners. The rest of the student population is about 1.3% Asian, 1.5% white, and 2% American Indian or Alaskan Native, but the President’s remarks were aimed at African-Americans. He said, “[E]ven as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African-Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle.”
Obama said, “America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college.” He graduated from Columbia University in 1983. Obama told the graduates that at that time, “Our nation had gone through years of economic stagnation.” But he failed to tell students that was at the hands of hapless Democrat President Jimmy Carter. Obama also didn’t tell the graduates that it was the policies of Republican President Ronald Reagan that resuscitated the economy. Nor did he give Reagan credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall, although Obama mentioned that positive event in his speech.
The President exhorted graduates to always vote; it seems a given from the partisan tone of his speech that he means for them to vote for Democrats. After calling attention to “mass incarceration,” “criminal justice reform,” and “better policing,” he suggested:
Mobilize the community, present them with a plan, work with them to bring about change, hold them accountable if they do not deliver. Passion is vital, but you’ve got to have a strategy. And your plan better include voting — not just some of the time, but all the time.
Obama praised Black Lives Matter activists. He said:
It’s thanks in large part to the activism of young people like many of you, from Black Twitter to Black Lives Matter, that America’s eyes have been opened — white, black, Democrat, Republican — to the real problems, for example, in our criminal justice system.
He also gave lip-service support to police officers, who are the stated enemy of the Black Lives Matter movement, which maintains that officers target African-American citizens. Speaking about a racial profiling law and a law that police must record confessions on video, which he claims to have “helped” pass when he was an Illinois Senator, Obama said:
I understood, as many of you do, the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve. And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions — including, by the way, African-American police officers — might have unconscious biases, as we all do.
In his speech, Obama made the unusual choice to emphasize “luck.” He said:
And that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African-Americans who haven’t been so lucky — because, yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky. That’s a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky. That God may have blessed them; it wasn’t nothing you did. [sic]
The double negative “it wasn’t nothing” is odd wording when addressing young people on the day they celebrate their college education, where they presumably learned proper English (and that double negatives translate to a positive). Some might believe that to tell these new graduates that their accomplishments are the result of luck is bizarre. It’s nice that Obama gave some credit to God.
Obama offered a positive suggestion to universities and to college students, in general, when he suggested that they allow speakers who don’t toe the leftist line a place in their community discourse. He said, “There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths.” Then he said, “Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance.” It’s a shame that the president believes those who disagree with the liberal viewpoint are ignorant, and that he shared that outlook with these young people.
A Pew Research poll about race relations was released in June. One finding is that 61% of blacks believe “race relations are generally bad.” President Obama did his part to make sure that belief holds true for the Howard University graduates. He said, “I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks.” Some of their professors may have told these students the same thing. Let’s hope the graduates find their places in the world, and that they don’t have the experiences Obama expects them to have.
The full speech can be read at WhiteHouse.gov or watched on YouTube.