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10 Famous Commencement Speeches

        Culture | Learning

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President Barack Obama at Morehouse, 2013
President Barack Obama poses with the honorary Doctor of Laws degree he received from Chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Davidson (R) and Morehouse President John Wilson at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony in Atlanta in 2013. © JASON REED/Reuters/Corbis
President Barack Obama poses with the honorary Doctor of Laws degree he received from Chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Davidson (R) and Morehouse President John Wilson at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony in Atlanta in 2013. © JASON REED/Reuters/Corbis

"My whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me."

U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken at several commencements by the time he addressed the graduating class of Morehouse College in 2013. But this speech turned out to be his most personal – and controversial.

Obama touched on the historic role the historically black Morehouse College has played in higher education, but also spoke of his personal failings and his struggles with race. "Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down," he said. "I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. 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" [source: The White House].

Obama also lamented that his father had not been present when he was growing up. "I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home -- where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man" [source: The White House].

Afterward, some criticized the speech as condescending and ignoring the role of government in perpetuating policies that hindered African-Americans. But others applauded his "no excuses" stance and for being a more vocal role model to young black men [source: Huffington Post].


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