By Pamela Gentry, Senior Political Analyst
May 10, 2010 – President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to 2,000 graduates and their families during the 140th graduation ceremony at Hampton University on Sunday.
The president told the class of 2010, “This is a period of breathtaking change” in history and those who are well educated will be able to shape change and adapt to meet the test of their lifetime.
“First and foremost, your education can fortify you against the uncertainties of a 21st century economy,” Obama told the graduates.
More than 12,000 folks filled the stadium to witness 1,072 graduates receiving their undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.
“Jobs today often require at least a bachelor’s degree, and that degree is even more important in tough times like these. In fact, the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is over twice as high as for folks with a college degree or more,” Obama pointed out.
He also addressed the educational disparities for African American. “By any number of different yardsticks, African Americans are being outperformed by their White classmates, as are Hispanic Americans,” Obama said.
The same is true when income is a factor, pointing out students from more affluent areas are outperforming students in poorer rural or urban communities regardless of race.
“Globally, it’s not even close,” he said. “In 8th grade science and math, for example, American students are ranked about 10th overall compared to top-performing countries. But African Americans are ranked behind more than 20 nations, lower than nearly every other developed country.”
“So all of us have a responsibility, as Americans, to change this; to offer every single child in this country an education that will make them competitive in our knowledge economy. That is our obligation as a nation,” Obama told the crowd.
Hampton University’s enrollment is 5,400 and a couple of alum working at the White House accompanied the president to the commencement including; Danielle Crutchfield, director of scheduling, Dana Lewis, from the first lady’s office and Rashad Drakeford from the U.S. Department of Energy. .
After the speech the president was give a Hampton University jacket with his name and title and a seedling from the Emancipation Oak – a national historic landmark on the campus.
The president was also awarded an honorary doctor of laws. He joked, “This is much less expensive than my last law degree.”