Rain or shine, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama withheld their commitments and gave commencement speeches at two HBCU graduation ceremonies this weekend.
While both Obamas made extraordinary points, Michelle was spot on about education issues that affect African Americans and Barack stressed the importance of giving back to the community.
Check out our favorite excerpts and lessons from both must-hear speeches below.
1. Giving back is just has important has working toward your dreams. (President Obama)
“I know some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like you escaped, and you can take your degree, get a fancy job and never look back. And don’t get me wrong – with the heavy weight of student loans, with doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could scarcely imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do. Yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless,” the President said. “Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business, we need black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood.”
“The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent on making money, rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed,” he added.
2. Inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. (President Obama)
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down,” he said. “I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
3. Career success means nothing without success at home. (President Obama)
“I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.” he said. “Even now, I’m still learning how to be the best husband and father I can be. Because success in everything else is unfulfilling if we fail at family.”
“I know that when I’m on my deathbed someday, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted. I won’t be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received,” he continued. “I’ll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters, a lazy afternoon with my wife, whether I did right by all of them.”
4. A degree is not everything. (President Obama)
“Whatever success I 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 empathy and connection – the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who needed it most; people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had, because but for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes. So it’s up to you to widen your circle of your concern – to create greater justice both in your own community, but also across our country. To make sure everyone has a voice; everyone gets a seat at the table; to make sure that everyone – no matter what they look like or where they come from, or who they love – gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they want it bad enough.”
5. Too many young people fantasize about becoming ball players and rappers, opposed to teachers and lawyers. (First Lady Michelle)
“Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of ‘separate but equal,’ when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” she said and the audience applauded. “Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school. Only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree — one in five.”