Biden Addresses Gaza Crisis Criticism In Morehouse Commencement Speech, Met With Minimal Protests

During his Commencement Address to the 2024 graduating class at Morehouse College, President Joe Biden stuck to his calls emphasizing differences between himself and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, while also acknowledging the dissent regarding his foreign policy towards Israel. The May 19 speech at Morehouse College, an HBCU, fits into Biden’s re-election campaign that has been aimed directly at Black voters over the last several weeks. 

During his speech, Biden weighed in on criticism over his handling of the humanitarian crisis in Palestine, telling the crowd, “I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family. But most of all, I know it breaks your heart. Breaks mine as well,” Biden said to the crowd. “Leadership is about facing the most intractable problems, it’s about challenging anger, frustration, and heartbreak to find a solution by doing what you believe is right, even when it’s hard and lonely.”

As NPR reports, Biden’s speech was answered by Morehouse College Valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher who asserted in his speech that it was time for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. “For the first time in our lives, we’ve heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture,” he said. “It is my sense as a Morehouse Man, nay – as a human being – to call for an immediate and a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

Some students who graduated wore keffiyehs (a traditional headdress worn by men from parts of the Middle East), others turned their backs towards Biden in protest, but largely, the commencement went without any major disruptions, as many alumni and Morehouse College President David Thomas predicted. Thomas went as far as to tell NPR ahead of the graduation that he would rather end the ceremony than have protestors arrested. “If my choice is 20 people being arrested on national TV on the Morehouse campus, taken away in zip ties during our commencement, before we would reach that point, I would conclude the ceremony.” Thomas said. 

Thomas was not the only Morehouse official to assure order and decorum. The Washington Post reports that ahead of the ceremony, Mel Foster, an associate provost of student success addressed the crowd, saying, “We also ask that you respect the dignity and reputation of excellence at Morehouse College,” Foster said. “Although we respect everyone’s right to free speech, Morehouse has provided guidelines to ensure we are in full compliance with the law.”

As The Hill reports, Biden is struggling not just with Black voters but with young voters and progressives. Fred Hicks, a Georgia-based Democratic strategist, told the outlet ahead of the commencement ceremony that Biden’s address is part of a concession from the Biden campaign that he needs to take action before he loses this voting bloc. “The president giving the commencement speech at Morehouse, before the preeminent Black male college in the country, is a nod to the fact that Black men and young voters are really looking at not voting this election — and he realizes, and the campaign realizes that he has to do something to try to bring them back, bring us back into the fold.”

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