Each spring, inspirational commencement addresses leave soon-to-be graduates feeling wiser and more ready to take on the real world beyond the walls of their university. Sometimes, those speeches are intended not just to motivate students, but to send a message to a wider audience. Such seemed to be the case on Saturday, when President Obama gave Howard University's commencement address in Washington, D.C.
Obama spoke for about 45 minutes at the commencement ceremony, which took place on the campus of the historically black university. He spoke in a notably relatable manner, making references to pop culture, like, "Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyoncé runs the world." As to be expected, Obama's address also delivered a serious — and relevant — message. He encouraged students to be confident in their blackness and to be proud of their heritage. Then, he encouraged them to vote.
"People try to make this political thing really complicated," the president said. "You know what? Just vote. It's math — if you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do what you want." He made no direct references to any one candidate in the ongoing presidential election, but he clearly had some words of wisdom for both the voters and the leaders who would be impacted by it.
Obama's speech seemed an awful lot like an attempt to debunk the idea popularized by Republican Donald Trump — that America needs to be made great again. In fact, his message seemed to echo one of Democrat Hillary Clinton's main talking points — that America is already pretty swell. "America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college," Obama said. "It's also happens to be better off than when I took office, but that's a longer story."
In perhaps the most relevant message from Obama's speech, he also seemed to encourage the audience — and probably voters and leaders on a wider scale — not to get disheartened by what they're seeing in the current election. "You need allies in a democracy," he said. "It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative is always worse." Right now, Obama and his party most urgently need allies in the form of voters.
The president also imparted his wisdom for how to face adversity, particularly the challengers you meet in the political realm. "As my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance," Obama said. "Let them talk. ... If you don't, you just make them a victim. ... Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position."
Regardless of whom Obama really supports for the Democratic nomination, he certainly wants the nominee to have the confidence to effectively stand up to Trump, the apparent Republican nominee. He surely also hopes that voters in the audience on Saturday and those beyond turn out to the polls to stand up to Trump in their own way. Using the words of his own presidential campaign, Obama closed with a popular refrain, "Yes, we can."