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Biden delivers Morehouse commencement speech amid outrage over Gaza

By Ehren Wynder
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the 140th Morehouse College commencement exercises on Century Campus on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Photo by Megan Varner/UPI
1 of 5 | President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the 140th Morehouse College commencement exercises on Century Campus on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Photo by Megan Varner/UPI | License Photo

May 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Sunday gave is first commencement speech this year at Morehouse College while his administration has braced for anger from students over his support for Israel.

The historically Black, all-male college has not been immune to the tidal wave of outrage on college campuses across the United States over the Biden administration's handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

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Biden in giving his commencement speech did not shy away from the controversy, condemning both the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and the Palestinian death toll that has accumulated in the seven-months-long-war.

"I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well," he said, adding his administration is working "around the clock" to "build a lasting, durable peace."

"Leadership is about fighting through the most intractable problems. It's about challenging anger, frustration and heartbreak. To find a solution. It's about doing what you believe is right, even when it's hard and lonely."

The president largely devoted his speech to highlighting his administration's work to advance racial equity and justice, including a historic $16 billion investment in historically Black colleges and universities.

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Morehouse President David Thomas also conferred Biden with an honorary Doctor of Law degree and declared him an honorary "Morehouse man."

Biden's address went largely uninterrupted, but prior to that, class of 2024 Valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher in his speech invoked the late civil rights leader and Morehouse alum Martin Luther King Jr. in his condemnation of the Gaza war.

"Dr. King was a global philanthropist of social justice, believing that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere," Fletcher said.

"For the first time in our lives, we heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture. It is my stance as a Morehouse man ... to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza strip."

During Biden's speech, about six students in the crowd sat turned away from him, but there were no significant protests.

Last month's announcement that Biden would deliver the Morehouse commencement was met with outrage from some school faculty members over his administration's handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

The White House last week sent Public Relations Director Stephen Benjamin to speak with students in an attempt to smooth over the friction ahead of Biden's address.

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"I think what's going to be most important are the words that the president articulates," Benjamin said Thursday after meeting with students. "And I know that he, he feels very deeply about what this means to these young men."

Biden has largely avoided giving speeches on college campuses since January when his remarks on abortion rights at Virginia's George Mason University were interrupted repeatedly by protesters against his support for Israel.

Biden's visit to Morehouse is the second during his presidency. He and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2022 spoke at the college about voting rights.

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