Friday, May 14, 2010

Obama Tells HU Grads to be Role Models and Mentors

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Obama Tells HU Grads to be Role Models and Mentors

Hampton University students often joke that HU President William R. Harvey owns a weather machine. Well if he does, the dial was set on perfect this past Sunday. Sunny skies and mild temperatures welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker of the Hampton University 140th Annual Commencement.

Excitement has been building among the graduates, faculty, staff, parents and the community about the Commencement since Obama was announced as the speaker in February. Attendees lined up on Marshall Avenue in front of the Armstrong Stadium long before the sun rose. Once the gates were opened proud parents, grandparents, other relatives and well-wishers hurried in to get to their seats.

The processional started promptly at 9 a.m. and the graduates and faculty, proudly marched in. Media representatives from all over the country snapped photos and shot video of the 1,072 graduates.
Harvey welcomed Obama and compared the similarities between Obama and HU.

“There are many parallels between your life and Hampton University. For example, you were born in Hawaii, and so was our founder General Samuel Chapman Armstrong,” Harvey said. “You attended and graduated from the Punahou School, and so did General Armstrong. You graduated from Harvard University and so did I. You believe in service, and Hampton University was founded on the concept of service to the community, the nation, and the world, and we instill this concept in our students through our many service programs and projects.”

In his address, Obama did indeed challenge the HU Class of 2010 to serve the community by being good mentors and role models.
“All of us have a responsibility, as Americans, to change this; to offer every child in this country an education that will make them competitive in our knowledge economy,” he said. “But all of you have a separate responsibility, as well. To be role models for your brothers and sisters. To be mentors in your communities. And, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children.”

Obama also spoke about the history and significance of historically black colleges and universities. “We meet here today, as graduating classes have met for generations, not far from where it all began, near that old oak tree off Emancipation Drive. I know my University 101.”

He went on to say that the founders of HU and the other HBCUs understood that while discrimination would persist long into the future, “with the right education, those barriers might be overcome and our God-given potential might be fulfilled. They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that ‘education…means emancipation.’”

Obama challenged the graduates to be persistent like Americans before them who wanted a better life for their children and grandchildren.

“That is what has made us who we are. A dream of brighter days ahead, a faith in things unseen, a belief that here, in this country, we’re the authors of our own destinies. And it now falls to you, the Class of 2010, to write the next great chapter in America’s story; to meet the tests of your own time; and to take up the ongoing work of fulfilling our founding promise.”

HU valedictorian and student commencement speaker Delaiah Cobler told the students to accept Obama’s challenge to be the change we wish to see. Cobler, a history major from Richmond, Va., also told her classmates to rise above the challenges and to “shake the haters off.”

Obama also became an honorary Hamptonian on May 9, 2010. Harvey and Chairman of the Hampton University Board of Trustees, Frank Fountain presented him with the honorary degree Doctor of Laws.

The President also took a little bit of HU back with him to Washington D.C. Harvey presented him with a sapling of the Emancipation Oak, an athletic jacket with President Obama and Hampton University written on it and gifts for his family.

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