President Obama made a passionate plea to Howard University graduates to get involved in the political process during a commencement address that involved a lecture on how to best bring about change as well as recognition of how America has improved over the years. Although activism of all types is important, Obama said, many young people aren’t willing to put in the work necessary to turn the dream of change into a reality.
“You have to go through life with more than just a passion for change—you have to have strategy,” Obama said, saying that what is needed is “not just awareness but action, not just hashtags but votes.” In the end, showing up on Election Day is what matters. “People try to make this political thing really complicated,” Obama said. “You know what? Just vote. It’s math. If you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do what you want.
“Change requires more than righteous anger,” Obama added, specifically criticizing those who try to shut down political rallies. “Don’t do that,” Obama said. “No matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, ‘Every time a fool speaks they are just advertising their own ignorance.’ “
In what was a clear rebuke to Donald Trump’s promise to make America great again, Obama also made clear that as far as he’s concerned, the U.S. is better now than it was when he graduated college. “It may sound like a controversial statement—a hot take—given the current state our political rhetoric and debate, but America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college,” Obama said. “It also happens to be better off than when I took office, but that’s a longer story.”
Race relations is one of the things that have undoubtedly improved since he graduated from college, Obama said, emphasizing there is still much work to be done. “No, my election did not create a post-racial society. I don’t know who was propagating that notion, but that was not mine.”
Obama also called on Howard graduates to “be confident in your blackness,” noting that “there is no one way to be black” and that he had been on “both sides of the debate about whether I’m black enough.” The president said it was up to each person to figure out what that means to them. “Create your own style, set your own standard of beauty, embrace your own sexuality,” he added. “Because you’re a black person—doing whatever it is that you’re doing—that makes it a black thing!”