ATLANTA - President Obama, in a soaring commencement address on work, sacrifice, and opportunity, on Sunday told graduates of historically black Morehouse College to seize the power of their example as black men graduating from college and use it to improve people's lives.
Noting the Atlanta school's mission to cultivate, not just educate, good men, Obama said graduates should not be so eager to join the chase for wealth and material things, but instead should remember where they came from and not "take your degree and get a fancy job and nice house and nice car and never look back."
"So 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," Obama said. "Sure, go get your M.B.A., 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," he said. "Rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed."
For those headed to medical school, Obama said: "Make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it, too."
Obama urged graduates to "inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves."
He used the speech to once again share his personal story of growing up without a father, confessing that along the way, he made unspecified bad personal choices "like too many men in our community."
"Sometimes, I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down," he said. ". . . 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."
He told the graduates to pay attention to their families, saying success in every other aspect of life means nothing without success at home.
"I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you," he said. "But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life . . . I've tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man."
The speech was Obama's second commencement address of the season, following remarks last Sunday at Ohio State University in Columbus. His third and final graduation address will come Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
About 500 students received undergraduate degrees Sunday and became "Morehouse Men."