President Joe Biden addressed graduates from the historically Black university, Howard University, Saturday, noting that American history “has not always been a fairy tale” and that “racism has long torn us apart.”
But on the nation’s best days, Biden said, “enough of us have the guts and the heart to stand up for the best in us.”
As the Commander–in–Chief spoke, a handful of Howard University students stood up with handmade signs in silent protest. The signs named Jordan Neely, the New York City subway performer who died May 1 after he was restrained in a chokehold by another passenger.
“We as graduates stand united for change, for Black Lives globally,” the students said in a statement.
Biden also spoke of the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that he said was a catalyst for his run for president in 2020.
“Hate “never goes away” and “silence is complicity,” Biden said.
He also noted that, “on the best days enough of us have the guts and the hearts to stand up for the best in us.”
“To choose love over hate, unity over disunion, progress over retreat,” he said.
The speech was the first of two commencement addresses that Biden will deliver this year. He is scheduled to address graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado on June 1.
The President also praised the Howard University graduates for being “part of the most gifted, tolerant, talented, best–educated generation in American history.”
“It’s your generation, more than anyone else’s, who will answer the questions for America: Who are we, what do we stand for, what do we believe, what do we want to be,” he said.
The silent protest during Biden’s speech was a reminder of the fight for racial justice and equality that still needs to be won in America. As Biden said, “we know that American history has not always been a fairy tale.”
But, he urged the Howard University graduates to “choose love over hate, unity over disunion, progress over retreat” and to become a part of the change that is needed in America.