biden-speaks-at-morehouse-college-commencement

Biden speaks at Morehouse College commencement

Politics

Biden speaks at Morehouse College commencement

By Kaanita Iyer, Michelle Shen and Michael Williams, CNN

Updated

3:05 PM ET, Sun May 19, 2024

11:24 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Biden’s commencement speech focuses on democracy, his work toward a solution in the Middle East

From CNN’s Michael Williams

President Joe Biden speaks at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 19.
President Joe Biden speaks at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 19. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

President Joe Biden spent much of his commencement address focusing on the theme of democracy, while touting his administration’s work for Black Americans.

As a handful of student turned their chairs in a silent protest of Biden, the president listed some virtues of a healthy democracy.

“In a democracy, we debate and dissent about America’s role in the world,” Biden said.

He added: “I want to say this very clearly — I support peaceful, nonviolent protest. Your voices should be heard. I promise you, I hear them.”

Biden said he was determined to make his “administration look like America” when he became president. “I have more African Americans in high places, including on the court, than any president in American history. Because I need the input,” he said.

Biden then shifted to the Middle East, calling the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian crisis” while saying his administration is working toward a ceasefire with the release of hostages.

11:38 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Biden says an “AKA from Howard” will be president some day, in nod to Harris

From CNN’s Michael Williams

President Joe Biden subtly teased his hopes for the political future of his vice president and running mate while delivering the Morehouse commencement on Sunday.

Saying he was “proud to put in the first Black woman on the United States Supreme Court,” Biden added that he had “no doubt one day a Morehouse man will be on that court as well.”

He then added he had “no doubt a Morehouse man will be president one day – just after an AKA from Howard.”

Harris was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically Black sorority, during her time as a student at Howard University.

11:22 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Biden says he’s called for “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza

From CNN’s Michael Williams

Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment in eastern Rafah, Gaza, on May 19.
Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment in eastern Rafah, Gaza, on May 19. AFP/Getty Images

President Joe Biden said he’s called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza while delivering his commencement address at Morehouse College.

“What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking,” he said.

He continued: “It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” the president said. “That’s why I’ve called for an immediate ceasefire – an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting and bring the hostages home.”

It was a forceful call for a ceasefire and an urgent call for a political solution in Gaza. Biden has previously said his administration is working towards a temporary ceasefire to secure the release of hostages still being held in Gaza.

The president continued: “What happens in Gaza, what rights do the Palestinian people have? I’m working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution — the only solution where two people live in peace, security, and dignity,” he said.

11:00 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Student unfurls Palestinian flag during Biden’s speech, others turn away from him

From CNN’s Donald Judd

Graduating students turn their backs on President Joe Biden as he delivers a commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19.
Graduating students turn their backs on President Joe Biden as he delivers a commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

As Biden began speaking, a student in the audience unfurled a Palestinian flag and held it up.

Some students in the audience have turned their chairs so they are facing away from the president as he delivers his commencement address.

10:40 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Biden’s Morehouse commencement address begins

From CNN’s Michael Williams

President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19.
President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

President Joe Biden took the podium at Morehouse College at 10:29 a.m. ET.

He started his remarks by recognizing the relatives of graduating seniors. “A lot of you, like my family, had to make significant sacrifices to get your kids to school,” the president said.

11:07 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Morehouse College confers honorary degree to Biden

From CNN’s Michael Williams

President Joe Biden is given an honorary degree after delivering his commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19.
President Joe Biden is given an honorary degree after delivering his commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Morehouse College has conferred an honorary degree to President Joe Biden.

Biden is the third US President to receive the honorific from Morehouse. President Barack Obama received an honorary degree when he delivered a commencement address at the college in 2013. Jimmy Carter received one in 1975, before he became president.

Morehouse faculty approved Biden’s honorary degree in a vote earlier this week.

10:20 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Morehouse valedictorian calls for ceasefire in Gaza as Biden looks on

From CNN’s Michael Williams

Morehouse College valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher speaks during the commencement in Atlanta on May 19.
Morehouse College valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher speaks during the commencement in Atlanta on May 19. Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Morehouse valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher called for a ceasefire in Gaza while speaking ahead of President Joe Biden’s commencement address.

“The Israel-Gaza conflict has plagued the people of its region for generations,” Fletcher said while Biden looked on behind him. “It is important to recognize that both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the wake of October 7. From the comfort of our homes, we watched an unprecedented number of civilians mourn the loss of men, women and children.

Fletcher called for the release of all hostages. He then continued: “For the first time in our lives, we’ve heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture.”

“It is my stance as a Morehouse man – nay, as a human being – to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

9:39 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

Biden takes stage at Morehouse College

From CNN’s Donald Judd

President Joe Biden attends Morehouse College's commencement in Atlanta on May 19.
President Joe Biden attends Morehouse College’s commencement in Atlanta on May 19. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

President Joe Biden has taken the stage at Morehouse College’s commencement ceremony. He was met with applause and chants of “four more years” from the section reserved for graduates’ families.

9:55 a.m. ET, May 19, 2024

How Biden’s team prepared for Morehouse speech as Israel-Gaza conflict looms over the commencement

From CNN’s Kayla Tausche, Arlette Saenz and Michael Williams

Tony Allen, right, Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs and President of Delaware State University, speaks as US President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with members of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the Roosevelt Room of the White House on September 25, 2023.
Tony Allen, right, Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs and President of Delaware State University, speaks as US President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with members of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the Roosevelt Room of the White House on September 25, 2023. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ahead of Sunday’s commencement address, President Joe Biden consulted with prominent Black public figures for weeks and White House officials traveled to Morehouse College’s campus to hold forth with students and faculty and attempt to quell their concerns.

During a meeting in early May, roughly half of the two-hour conversation focused on the conflict in Gaza, one source said. Stephen Benjamin, the director of the White House office of public engagement, said he and the students had a wide-ranging conversation, which again included the conflict in the Middle East.

Students are also concerned that their achievements will be overshadowed by a stump speech, according to people familiar with the discussions. They have expressed frustration that the format of the event and the level of security required for such a high-profile visit resulted in limited tickets for family members, many of whom must watch from an overflow room.

Biden’s scheduled appearance at Morehouse is a shift in strategy as the president has largely shied away from addressing large crowds of young people on college campuses, a change that came shortly after his January remarks on abortion rights at Virginia’s George Mason University were interrupted more than a dozen times by protesters outraged at his continued support for Israel in its war in Gaza.

The Middle East conflict spurred more than 1,360 student demonstrations on campuses across the country from October 7 to May 3, according to data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

“I understand people have strong feelings of deep convictions,” Biden said during brief remarks from the White House on campus protests earlier this month. “In America, we respect the right and protect the right for them to express that. But it doesn’t mean anything goes.”