‘Your Voices Should Be Heard’: Biden Affirms Gaza Protests During Morehouse Commencement

‘Your Voices Should Be Heard’: Biden Affirms Gaza Protests During Morehouse Commencement
President Joe Biden speaks at the Morehouse College Commencement in Atlanta on May 19, 2024. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, Ga.—President Joe Biden addressed the commencement at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19, acknowledging the concerns expressed by graduates regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.

“I support peaceful nonviolent protest,” he told the graduates of the historically black, all-male college. “Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them.”

The lead-up to President Biden’s commencement speech was overshadowed by concerns about the possibility of protests breaking out during the president’s visit, as they have on college campuses across the country in recent weeks.

However, he decided to address the Israel–Hamas war head-on, reaffirming his call for an immediate ceasefire to bring home all of the remaining hostages held by Hamas, and his commitment to a lasting peace under a two-state solution.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” he said. “That’s why I’ve called for an immediate ceasefire, an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting. Bring the hostages home.”

The president took his speech very seriously and had spent the entire week working on it with his senior advisors, according to the White House.

“He’s been diligently working on this and taking this very seriously and wants to, obviously, hit the right tone, meet the moment,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on May 17.

During the ceremony, graduating class valedictorian DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, who wore a Palestinian flag pin and called for recognition of the casualties on both sides, the release of all hostages, and an immediate ceasefire.

“It is my stance as a Morehouse man, nay as a human being, to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip,” he said, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience. The president was also seen applauding.

In the days leading up to commencement, students of Morehouse and other nearby schools circulated a letter opposing the school’s decision to invite the president to the commencement.

“President Biden and his team have circled The Atlanta University Center like a flock of vultures, frequenting our institutions for the social currency that comes with posturing themselves next to Black exceptionalism,” they wrote. “Biden knows he’s at risk of losing our vote.”

The students also criticized him for not taking measures to prevent the loss of innocent lives in Gaza.

Morehouse College President David Thomas told the Associated Press prior to the commencement that silent, non-disruptive protests would be tolerated, but he was prepared to half the ceremony if disruptions mounted.

A few protesters were spotted during the event, including some students who turned their chairs to face away from the president during his speech. One member of the audience also turned his back and raised a fist during the event.

Democracy and Manhood

Throughout his speech, President Biden also reminded the audience of his work fighting for civil rights, his administration’s multi-billion-dollar investment in America’s historically black colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and his commitment to work around a recent Supreme Court ruling preventing the government from providing sweeping student debt forgiveness.

He touched on matters of faith and the hardships that the class of 2024 faced, and he shared his own personal stories of resilience surrounding the death of his first wife and two of his children.

He also asked the graduating class, “What is democracy?”

The president said that democracy, to him, means calling out “the poison of white supremacy,” rooting out “systemic racism,” and about “hearing your generation’s call for communities free of gun violence and a planet free of climate crisis and showing your power to change the world.”

The president also attacked his opposition, without mentioning names, as “extremists” that seek to “close the doors of opportunity, strike down affirmative action, and attack the values of diversity, equality, and inclusion.”

He called the opposition’s definition of masculinity as “toxic” and championed the all-male graduating class as demonstrating “what it really means to be a man.”

“It’s about giving hate no safe harbor, and leaving no one behind, and defending freedoms,” he said. “It’s about standing up to the abuse of power or the physical, economic, or psychological.”

He joked about having too many Morehouse men in his administration than he knows what to do with. He touted his administration’s diversity and said, “No doubt, the Morehouse man will be president one day—just after an AKA from Howard,” referring to Vice President Kamala Harris.

President Biden’s visit also follows meetings with the plaintiffs of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Ruling and the leaders of black fraternities and sororities known as the “Divine Nine.”

“No administration in history since the inception of historically black colleges and universities has invested more in our institutions than the Biden administration has,” Mr. Thomas said in his introduction. “If we look at his policies, it is very clear that those investments are not charity but represent a clear view of the value and excellence that is embodied in these institutions.”

He awarded President Biden with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws and said, “From my point of view, you’ve been listening. You spoke to us about your vision for the future.”

Last week, the Biden administration announced $16 billion in funding for HBCUs across the country, which builds on more than $11 billion of funding provided between FY 2021 and FY 2023.

“This historic investment is transformative – from helping to fund cutting-edge research and making long-overdue renovations, to providing mental health resources and ensuring students have access to every opportunity to thrive,” Vice President Harris said in an official statement on May 16.

The president’s commencement speech was also premised by campaigning among Morehouse graduates and black business owners in Atlanta on Saturday, May 18. He credited those Georgia voters as the reason he became president.

After the ceremony, he departed for Detroit, Michigan, where he will give the keynote address at the NAACP’s Freedom Fund dinner. A protest rally is expected outside the dinner’s venue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

From The Epoch Times

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