On Sunday, May 9, 2010, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Hampton University. This African-American college set in southern Virginia has a remarkable history dating back to the Civil War. Here, the President focused on the promise of education in defiance of inequality, the formidable challenges confronting graduates today and our American Dream that continues to drive us forward. President Obama stated:
“The founders of these institutions knew, of course, that inequality would persist long into the future. They recognized that barriers in our laws, and in our hearts, wouldn’t vanish overnight.
But they also recognized a larger truth; a distinctly American truth. They recognized that with the right education, those barriers might be overcome and our God-given potential might be fulfilled. They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that “education…means emancipation.” They recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise. That recognition, that truth – that an education can fortify us to rise above any barriers, to meet any tests – is reflected, again and again, throughout our history.”
“… It’s a period of breathtaking change, like few others in our history. We can’t stop these changes, but we can adapt to them. And education is what can allow us to do so. It can fortify you, as it did earlier generations, to meet the tests of your own time.”
“…. Think about that for a moment. A woman, a black woman (Dorothy Height), in 1929, refusing to be denied her dream of a college degree. Refusing to be denied her rights. Her dignity. Her piece of America’s promise. Refusing to let any barriers of injustice or inequality stand in her way. That refusal to accept a lesser fate; that insistence on a better life is, ultimately, the secret of America’s success.
So, yes, an education can fortify us to meet the tests of our economy, the tests of citizenship, and the tests of our time. But what makes us American is something that can’t be taught – a stubborn insistence on pursuing a dream.”