A Personal Appeal for Excellence

Recently, President Obama delivered the commencement speech for the 2013 graduating class of Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

The President, a longtime supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) chose to deliver this commencement address at Morehouse because of its rich history and legacy of graduating generations of leaders including Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond, Shelton “Spike” Lee, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Institutions like Morehouse, play an important role in producing skilled college graduates and reaching President Obama’s ambitious goal for the United States to lead the world in number of college graduates by 2020.

In his commencement address, President Obama spoke of the values necessary for the graduates of Morehouse to succeed in the 21st century global economy. He discussed individual and collective responsibilities for Morehouse men, who are advocates and holders of the “power of example”. President Obama encouraged the graduates to use their power for “something larger than yourself.”

President Obama stated:

“Whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I’ve held, have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy, the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most; people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had—because there, but for the grace of God, go I. I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me…”

The President used these words and his entire speech to outline the important steps all graduates must make as they enter the workforce and begin their contribution to the larger society. The overarching message was simple and familiar; we are all in this together.

The Morehouse graduate of today is the role model of tomorrow. The President remarked that the graduates before him were part of, “A legacy of leaders—not just in our black community, but in our broader American community.”

The message the President communicated was important for graduates and students around the country to hear. They heard the leader of our country deliver a personal account of how the choices he has made over his lifetime have impacted his ability to succeed. Through the President’s leadership, to make college more affordable and strengthen standards across the educational spectrum, today’s college graduates are able to enter the workplace prepared for a global marketplace and will continue to succeed at changing negative stereotypes and addressing critical global challenges.

Andrew Edghill is a senior at Savannah State University majoring in Political Science. He is currently a summer 2013 Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.