It did not make the headlines. And why would it? Students graduate in their thousands around this time in the US. The only reason the major newspapers reported the event was because the head of state, President Barack Obama, was in attendance and delivered the commencement lecture at Howard University, Washington DC. But there was a major highlight that was ignored. A report states that of the 96 graduating Doctor of Pharmacy candidates, 43 of them were Nigerians and of the 27 awards given, 16 went to Nigerians. Why? Because we rock, that’s why!
Speaking at the event, Obama emphasised that his election has not created a “post-racial society” despite improved race relations.
Stressing the need to keep pushing for change, he gave the students at the historically black university impassioned advice on how to “shape our collective future.”
Chief among that advice: Vote, “not just some of the time but all of the time.” He added: “When we don’t vote we give away our power.”
He described the university as a “centerpiece of African-American intellectual life, and a central part of our larger American story.”
Arguing that the U.S. — and the world — is a “better place” than when he graduated from college in the early 1980s, he said there is still work to be done, citing employment, achievement and justice gaps for African-Americans.
“Be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your blackness,” he told the graduates. “There’s no one way to be black. Take it from somebody who’s seen both sides of the debate about whether I’m black enough.”
Obama told the graduates to remember the ties that connect African-Americans: “That is our particular awareness of injustice, and unfairness, and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life.
“We have cousins, and uncles, and brothers, and sisters, who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were but somehow got ground down by structures that were unfair and unjust, and that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African-Americans who haven’t been so lucky.”
That empathy should extend to “all people who are struggling,” he said.
Finally, he advised the graduates that creating change requires organisation and strategy. That strategy has to include voting, Obama added:
“People try to make this political thing really complicated … you know what? Just vote. It’s math. If you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do what you want.”
Moreover, he said change requires compromise and “listening to those with whom you disagree.”
Obama said when he received a bachelor’s degree in 1983, there were no Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and few Black judges. He said it was important to note the progress America has made in race relations since then.
“To deny how far we have come would be a disservice to those who went before. There’s still so much work to do, so many miles to travel,” Obama said. “America needs you to gladly, happily take up that work.”
*Culled from Sunday Adelaja Blog
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