Morehouse College Commencement Address

Published: 5/25/2023

​Remarks as prepared
​Delivered on Sunday, May 21, 2023

What's going on! Good being at The House!

Thank you: Dr. Thomas – Chairman Woods – administrators – alumni – faculty – family – friends – loved ones – and all the distinguished members of the board, including my Maryland brother Reverend Coates!

My godfather is here!

And congratulations to the great Morehouse Class of 2023!

My class! 

I didn’t go to Morehouse – but I’ve had the privilege of meeting and knowing many Morehouse Men – and I’m lucky to have many Morehouse friends in my life.

I’ve witnessed the kindness, the courage, and the confidence that defines the Morehouse Mystique. And I see that spirit in you today, class of 2023!

Soon, you will walk across this stage, and in that moment, each of you will go from being a Man of Morehouse to being a Morehouse Man!

It’s a title you will hold for the rest of your life – and one that says so much more than where you went to school:

It says you are a man of strong character and disciplined mind; 

It says you are a man of vision and virtue;

And it says you got all your Crown Forum credits in! 

It's a title you should be proud of – and from what I know of this school and its graduates, I have no doubt you WILL be proud… 

VERY proud…

Because, as the saying goes:

“How do you know you’re in a room with a Morehouse Man?”

“They will tell you in the first three minutes of conversation!

Morehouse Men share a common pride.

But it’s not just pride in themselves or their accomplishments:

It’s pride in their history.

Graduations are, by nature, a celebration of the future –

But I want to spend a moment and talk a little bit about the past;

I want to spend a moment and talk about history.

Because while each of you worked hard to get here, this degree is not the product of YOUR hard work alone. 

As Black men in America, we know our present is the result of the fights, the struggles, and the victories of the past.

We are here because of people who marched and prayed over generations...

People who fought for you, but didn’t know you –

People who didn’t know you, but believed in the hope of you –

People who believed in the hope of you, but knew they’d never see those hopes realized in their own lifetimes.

People honored here, on Century Campus: 

Where Dr. King studied – where Dr. Mays was laid to rest – where Union soldiers died for freedom.

These individuals and their struggles have served as the foundation of our fortune.

Because of them, you are standing on a foundation that is – as said in Psalm 61 – "A rock that is higher than I."

Do not forget about the rocks you stand on, Men of Morehouse: 

Rocks that allow you to stand so tall – 

Rocks that allow you to see so far – 

Rocks that allow you to hold your heads so high that you can reach the crown of high expectations laid before you.

You stand on the rocks of generations.

And since history is one of the things that helped get you here, it is the very thing that can also move you forward.

I come here knowing that history helped guide me.

A few years ago, nobody would have believed that I could be elected governor of my state. 

And it wasn’t just because I was polling at 1%...

It’s because nobody thought that people who look like you and like me could lead Maryland –

A state once home to one of the the largest slave ports in America;

A state that in the 20th century still had Black men lynched in our communites and streets;

A state that was the birthplace of redlining and other discriminatory and predatory housing policies that served as one of the greatest wealth thefts in our nation's history. 

This history is still fresh. 

So in the early days of our campaign people would ask me: 

“How do you possibly think you can win?”

My answer was: 

“Because I know our full history.”

Maryland has a long, troubled history, yes…

But Maryland also has a history of courage.

The courage of leaders and thinkers and writers and scholars – who struggled, but had the strength overcome. 

Their contributions paved the way for me to run for office – and their stories helped me see the path.

Reginald Lewis helped me see the path:

He was the first Black man to build a billion-dollar company in the history of the United States of America.

Cab Calloway helped me see the path:

He was one of the first Black men to break the color barrier in American entertainment.

Lillie May Jackson helped me see the path:

She founded the Baltimore City NAACP and is known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

Benjamin Banneker helped me see the path:

He typified Black excellence and Black ingenuity – and after a lifetime of success, he left this message for future generations: 

“Never abandon your vision. Keep reaching to further your dreams.”

On the campaign trail, I spoke about this history openly. And in the privacy of my own home, particularly on hard days, I studied this history – as it served to refuel my faith.

I studied these bold, brave men and women who saw the hatred and horror of their time – and pushed on anyway – 

Their grandeur enlarged by the terror they faced.

Men of Morehouse: I stand before you as the first Black governor of my state and only the third Black governor ever elected in our nation's history with a simple message: 

Our history is our power!

I have come to tell you that you must hold this history close – because life will test you, and when it does, your history will give you the power to meet the challenge.

Out in the world, many will seek to minimize your history.

Out in the world, many will seek to rewrite your history.

Out in the world, many will seek to have you forget your history.

I look around our country and I see book banning –

I see teachers being censored –

I see curriculum with the truth taken out.

And it is not just a threat to our history – it is a threat to our strength.

When politicians ban books and muzzle educators, they say it’s an effort to prevent “discomfort and guilt” – but we know that’s not true!

This is NOT about fear of making people feel bad:

This is about fear of people understanding their power;

This is about fear of you realizing that you come from a long line of titans – and visionaries – and dreamers – and pioneers –

People who defied the odds and helped build this nation with their hands, their hearts, and their minds!

And I fear, Men of Morehouse, that what is happening now with our history is just the beginning:

I fear we are watching the early decay of a deep rot that threatens to hollow out our future by eliminating our past. 

Those who yearn to destroy history will not stop at our history – they will go after the history of those we know.

I’m talking about our friends in the indigenous community –

I’m talking about our friends in the Jewish community –

I’m talking about our friends in the Asian community –

I’m talking about our friends in the gay community –

I’m talking about our mothers and daughters and sisters – 

I’m talking about everyone in this country who has been a part of the American story – and who are watching the stories of those who came before them wiped away.

A threat to any history is a threat to all history.

When a student is put under investigation by their school after delivering a presentation on the Stonewall Riots, that doesn’t just hurt the LGBTQ community – it hurts us all.

When a book about the life and achievements of the baseball legend Roberto Clemente is banned, that doesn’t just hurt the Puerto Rican community – it hurts us all.

When a school board revises curriculum to edit out writings on Japanese internment in America, that doesn’t just hurt the AAPI community – it hurts us all.

I can think of few greater threats to our nation than this threat to our history – a threat that will have lasting consequences:

Not only because those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it –

But because those who do not learn their past will never know their own power.

Today, I am calling on you, class of 2023, to confront this threat as you move to the next stage in your lives.

Celebrate your history – unapologetically;

Tell others about your history and challenge those who would diminish that history;

Collect pieces of your history:

Books of Black poets – films of Black artists – lives of Black leaders. 

Surround your life with emblems of our past – knowing it isn’t enough to be a passive recipient of history: You must be an active custodian.

That understanding of history drives my intentionality – 

And that intentionality underscores my azimuth. 

On the morning of my inauguration, I asked a group of a few hundred people to join me at the Annapolis Docks to honor the enslaved men and women who had been taken through that port against their will.

We held a wreath-laying ceremony – 

And then, we marched to the State House, a place built by enslaved people – 

And that’s where I was sworn-in as the 63rd Governor of Maryland.

And there were some who immediately attacked my decision — who said I was starting my administration with indoctrination. 

And my response was: “this isn’t indoctrination, it’s history.”

We organized that ceremony at the docks intentionally – not to diminish anyone, but to empower everyone.

We did it with love – not to inspire guilt, but to inspire strength.

And that strength gave us power. 

It’s a strength I dream of for all of you: The strength of generations.

Men of Morehouse, I need you to be lifelong learners and loyal ambassadors of your history. It is the only way ahead.

Then, I need you to take your history and use it to make history of your own.

Every great champion has used what’s come before to accomplish the next great task.

By understanding the past, you understand the path – 

And by understanding the path, you can blaze the trail:

Helping our schools;

Promoting economic empowerment;

Creating pathways to work, wages, and wealth for all and not just some;

Providing second chances for people returning from incarceration, so we are not making every sentence a life sentence;

Calling on our fellow Americans to serve – and participate in a movement that doesn’t just want to pave over the cracks, but actually wants to fix the foundation of what’s broken.

As you move along the path of our history, you will see these themes etched into the paving stones, pointing us forward. 

You must learn the path, class of 2023: Because our future depends on it.

In one hundred years from now, a new generation of Morehouse Men will be gathered here, preparing to take their next steps in life – and the trail before them will have been pioneered by you.

You will be the rocks that they stand on.

So practice your history –

Protect your history –

And participate in your history – by making history of your own.

I am calling on you to recognize the power of your history – and use it for the betterment of mankind. 

Choose to confront the ugliness of our past without fear;

Choose to confront the hardship of our present without hesitation;

Choose to move the earth by the power of your own hand and the power of your own will –

And hold close the stories of those who came before, because those stories will make you invincible.

Out in the world, the arrows will be sharp and the swords will be strong – 

But history will be your armor!

History will protect you –

History will inspire you –

History will nourish you –

History will empower you –

History will teach you –

History will guide you –

History will save you, and help you save us.

Thank you, and congratulations to the great Morehouse Men of 2023!