On Sunday May 9, President Obama addressed nearly 11,000 graduates at the Armstrong Stadium at the historically African-American Hampton University.
He recalled the university’s historical founding in September 1861 as an educational institute for slaves who had escaped nearby plantations in the Confederate south and sought asylum. Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, paralleled the founders beliefs with his own that education could break barriers of inequality.
“They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that ‘education means emancipation.’ They recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise,” he added.
Obama also pressured the graduates to become mentors and role models for their communities, along with their future children, and to bestow upon them the value of a higher education, self respect, personal responsibility and the “intrinsic sense of excellence that made it possible for [them] to be [there on that day].”
Additionally, the President commended them on their achievements of higher education, stating that with the country’s current economic standing, a high school diploma alone is no longer competitive in a student’s professional pursuit.
Obama ended his speech with a commitment to the country’s investment of tens of billions of dollars into American education to ensure support for the raised standards and expectations.