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At Morehouse ceremony, Obama honors King, notes graduates’ responsibilities

Graduating students at Morehouse College photographed President Obama at commencement ceremonies Sunday.

Jason Reed/REUTERS

Graduating students at Morehouse College photographed President Obama at commencement ceremonies Sunday.

ATLANTA — President Obama came to Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., on Sunday to tell graduates, 50 years after King’s landmark speech in Washington, that “laws, hearts, and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks like you can serve as president of the United States.”

Obama paid tribute to Morehouse as the place where King first read the writings of Gandhi and absorbed the theory of civil disobedience.

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The president tied King’s journey to his own, speaking in forthright and strikingly personal terms about his struggles as a young man with an absent father, a “heroic single mother,” supportive grandparents, and the psychological burdens of being black in America.

“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices,” Obama said. “I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.”

“But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses,” Obama told the graduates, who greeted him enthusiastically.

“Along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities,” Obama added. “There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves.”

Obama exhorted the graduates to extend a hand to other black men, saying that his success depended less on his Ivy League credentials than on his sense of empathy and the obligation he felt as a black man to help his brothers.

Reflecting on his turbulent childhood and his own family, Obama said, “I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle. I want to be a better father, a better husband, and a better man.”

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