President Barack Obama addressed members of the 2016 graduating class of Howard University and challenged them to serve as “seeds of change” for social and political justice in America.
Obama greeted more than 2,300 graduates and more than 25,000 family members at the commencement ceremony on Howard University’s main campus. President Obama is the sixth sitting U.S. president to deliver the keynote address at a Howard University commencement.
Obama said when he received a bachelor’s degree in 1983, there were no Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and few Black judges. He said it was important to note the progress America has made in race relations since then.
“To deny how far we have come would be a disservice to those who went before. There’s still so much work to do, so many miles to travel,” Obama said. “America needs you to gladly, happily take up that work.”
Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said President Obama was awarded a Doctor of Science degree (not doctor of laws or letters) to underscore how much the Affordable Care Act means to this country as a whole. He urged graduates to embrace Obama as a personal role model and to emulate his trademark graciousness.
In his remarks, Obama addressed “a justice gap when too many Black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails.” However, he emphasized that passion alone was not enough to cement lasting change.
“If you care about mass incarceration, what are you doing to pressure the Congress to pass the pending legislation that might alleviate it?” Obama asked. “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 of the time.”
Obama credited two Howard University legal icons, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston, for their leadership in overturning Jim Crow segregation laws.
“The seeds of change for all America were sown here,” Obama said.
Speaking from his own experience, Obama encouraged African Americans to continue to embrace their heritage and to “be confident in your Blackness.” Even so, he noted that there was no one way to be Black, and no litmus test for authenticity.
“Look at Howard,” Obama said. “One thing most people don’t realize about Howard is how diverse it is. You shatter stereotypes.”
Howard University also awarded a Doctor of Humanities degree to actress and activist Cicely Tyson, a Doctor of Laws to Ambassador Horace G. Dawson, a pioneering member of the U.S. Foreign Service and founding director of the Howard’s Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, and a Doctor of Science to Dr. L.D. Britt, chairman of the Department of Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
On commencement day, Howard University awarded more than 1,300 bachelor’s degrees, more than 300 master’s degrees, and over 100 Ph.Ds. The top five areas of concentration were psychology, history, political science, social work and mathematics. Additionally, more than 400 students received professional degrees in law, medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.
Howard University has the only dental and pharmacy colleges in the District of Columbia. The graduates represented 46 states and 35 countries. The youngest graduate at the ceremony was 20-years-old and the oldest was 74.
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, two Truman Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, 30 Fulbright Scholars and 11 Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, call 202-238-2330, or visit the University's Web site atwww.howard.edu.