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From the New York Times:

HAMPTON, Va. — For the first time as president, Barack Obama on Sunday delivered a commencement address to a historically black college, Hampton University, telling graduates that they have “a separate responsibility” to become mentors to other young African-Americans to help close a persistent gap in educational achievement.

Mr. Obama, clad in a “Hampton blue” robe, said the 1,072 graduates were better poised to enter an economy still recovering from recession and facing global competition than Americans without a college degree, who have an unemployment rate twice as high as those with one.

“I don’t have to tell you that too many folks back home aren’t as well prepared,” he said. “By any number of different yardsticks, African-Americans are being outperformed by their white classmates, as are Hispanic-Americans. Students in well-off areas are outperforming students in poorer rural or urban communities, no matter what skin color. Globally, it’s not even close.”

Mr. Obama said all Americans have a responsibility “to change this, to offer every single child in this country an education that will make them competitive in our knowledge economy.” But, he told the graduates, “all of you have a separate responsibility — to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities and, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children.”

Recalling Hampton University’s start as a trade and agricultural school for freed slaves after the Civil War in a state that had outlawed education for blacks, Mr. Obama said the founders of the school and others like it “knew, of course, that inequality would persist long into the future.”

“But they also recognized the larger truth, a distinctly American truth,” he said. “They recognized, class of 2010, that the right education might allow those barriers to be overcome, might allow our God-given potential to be fulfilled.”

Mr. Obama, a product of two Ivy League universities, Columbia and Harvard, was enthusiastically received by an audience that packed the field and bleachers of the school’s stadium on a sunny, breezy morning. He spoke a day after his wife, Michelle, an alumna of Princeton, addressed graduates at another historically black college, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

William R. Harvey, Hampton’s president for 32 years, noted Mr. Obama’s historic achievement as the first African-American president. He gave him a seedling from the university’s Emancipation Oak, under which former slaves who had sought refuge at a Union fortress were educated by a free black woman in violation of Virginia law in 1861, seven years before Hampton was founded.

To applause, Dr. Harvey said Mr. Obama promised that the seedling would be planted at the White House.


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