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Biden’s Morehouse Graduation Speech Addressed Palestine, Protests, & Democracy

It’s not every day you have a college graduation, and it’s definitely not every day your college graduation features the President of the United States as your commencement speaker. And yet, that’s exactly what the Morehouse College class of 2024 got when President Joe Biden stepped up to speak at their ceremony.

On May 19, the historically Black liberal arts college for men hosted graduates, their families, and the Secret Service as Biden gave a 30-minute keynote speech at the Atlanta college’s main commencement ceremony. It was a bumpy road to get to this point, as many students and faculty criticized the choice of Biden as the graduation speaker due to his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. However, the ceremony went over without interruption, as some students opted to silently protest without disrupting the day’s events.

Biden’s Morehouse speech was more than just an inspirational message to new graduates; it was a key move amid his run for re-election against former president Donald Trump. As he struggles to secure votes from Black voters, as well as young voters, Biden’s Morehouse College graduation speech served as a way to connect with an audience that has a huge bearing on how he fares at the polls come November.

Here’s how he did.

Biden called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and addressed campus unrest.

As protesters gathered outside the ceremony, some graduates silently demonstrated their displeasure with Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war by turning away from him while he spoke, unfurling Palestinian flags during the ceremony, and walking out when the president received his honorary degree). And yet, Biden did not shy away from addressing the topic that has been at the forefront of conversations on college campuses for weeks and months. 

“What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking,” he said. “That’s why I’ve called for an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting and bring the hostages home.” He went on to promise that he’s working on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, “the only solution where two people live in peace, security, and dignity,” he said.

Biden also spoke directly about the protests that have been happening at college campuses all over the country. “In a democracy, we debate and dissent about America’s role in the world,” he said. “I want to say this very clearly — I support peaceful, nonviolent protest. Your voices should be heard. I promise you, I hear them.”

He spoke about racism and bigotry to a primarily Black audience.

It’s no secret Biden’s commencement speech at Morehouse is part of his bid to win over Black voters, but his speech made this goal all the more evident. 

It’s natural to wonder if the democracy you hear about actually works for you,” he said. “What is democracy when Black men are being killed in the streets? What is democracy when a trail of broken promises still leave Black communities behind? What is democracy when you have to be 10 times better than anyone else to get a fair shot?” He then went on to outline the initiatives his administration has worked on in order to benefit Black communities, such as increasing funding for HBCUs. “Instead of forcing you to be 10 times better, we’re breaking down doors to save 100 more opportunities,” he said.

He hinted at a future Kamala Harris presidency.

Amid his many serious talking points, Biden also dropped something of an Easter egg. As he was touting his accomplishments in putting multiple Black leaders in positions of power, Biden told the graduates he has “no doubt a Morehouse man will be president one day — just after an AKA from Howard”

ICYMI, Vice President Kamala Harris was in the historically African American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha when she was a student at Howard University, making this quip a clear indication that Harris is planning to run for president one day, probably soon. Plus, Biden added a cheeky aside to drive home the fact that he was indeed talking about Harris, saying with a smile, “She’s tough, guys.”

His appeal to preserve democracy was a central theme.

Throughout his speech, Biden continued to tie his key points back to a central theme: democracy. “That’s my commitment to you,” he said. “To show you: democracy, democracy democracy — it’s still the way.”
His focus on democracy was a clear attempt to inspire his audience to vote in the upcoming election, as voters — especially young voters — have become increasingly frustrated with their choices for president and apathetic about participating in the democratic system. Whether his efforts end up succeeding remains to be seen.

Lexi Williams is the Senior Editor at Her Campus, where she spearheads the site's Life and News coverage — including academics, national news, digital news, and viral news. She also oversees our Gen Leaders and Dream Jobs franchises, and works with the national writer team, interns, and freelance writers. Dedicating her career to helping college students, teens, and twentysomethings live their best lives, Lexi became obsessed with all things Gen Z through her previously held editorial positions at Elite Daily and Dorm Therapy. Before that, she dabbled in the food and wine space at Wine Spectator magazine, where she learned to balance her Champagne taste with her Two-Buck-Chuck budget. Lexi's bylines have also appeared in Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Bustle, StyleCaster, and Betches, among others. She graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Miami in 2016. Originally from Florida, Lexi currently lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends her days scouting the best pizza spots, working on her debut novel, perpetually redecorating her apartment, and taking too many photos of her yappy little rescue dog, Benji. For pitches, contact Lexi at lexiwilliams@hercampus.com. For a healthy dose of Millennial cringe, follow her on Instagram at @lexi___williams.