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Biden gives high-stakes commencement address at Morehouse College

Greg Bluestein, Jillian Price and Ernie Suggs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Political News

President Joe Biden gave a high-stakes commencement speech to hundreds of young Black men at Morehouse College on Sunday, delivering a direct address to the constituency his campaign worries is shifting against him as he runs for reelection against former President Donald Trump.

The Democrat used parts of his 25-minute speech to lay out the stakes of his 2024 campaign, saying he was determined “to root out systemic racism” while also acknowledging more work ahead to combat economic inequality.

And Biden spoke broadly about his handling of the Israel-Hamas war that led to threats of boycotts and protests of his speech, revealing that his own family is upset by the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza that worsened after Israel launched its military campaign following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

“It’s one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about it,” the president said, nodding to the 414 graduating seniors arrayed before him. “I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine.”

The speech represented Biden’s most significant public remarks to students since protests over the war in Gaza broke out in campuses around the nation, and it was largely well received on a campus with a rich legacy of social activism.

Still, though there were no mass demonstrations from the Morehouse audience, there were symbols of protest throughout the event.

 

One faculty member stood with her back turned and her fist raised aloft throughout Biden’s speech. Some students, notably, didn’t stand to applaud after Biden’s remarks. And the crowd roared after the valedictorian, DeAngelo Fletcher, called “for an immediate and permanent cease-fire.”

Outside the strict security measures surrounding the gated campus, more than 100 protesters marched to Morehouse, some waving signs reading “Genocide Joe” and chanting, demanding a cease-fire.

Among the demonstrators who marched from West End Park to the Atlanta University Center was Daxton Pettus, a junior at Morehouse, who said he felt he was standing up for what is right.

”I made a commitment, a personal commitment to be on the right side of history and to be an active agent,” said Pettus, who noted one of Morehouse’s most famed graduates.

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