Before Obama arrived in Atlanta, thunderstorms drenched hundreds of people who gathered on the campus lawn for the outdoor ceremony, forcing many guests to wear clear plastic ponchos over what amounted to their Sunday-best clothes. Rain began falling again, accompanied by more thunder and lightning, minutes after Obama began to speak.
“I also have to say you all are going to get wet,” he said. “I would be out there with you if I could. But Secret Service gets nervous, so I’m going to have to stay here, dry. But know that I’m with you in spirit.”
Obama urged graduates to “inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves.”
Obama used the speech to once again share his personal story of growing up without a father, confessing that along the way he made unspecified bad personal choices “like too many men in our community.”
“Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down,” he said. “I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
Speaking in personal terms as he often does when addressing predominantly black audiences, particularly of black males, the nation’s first black president also spoke intimately of his desire to be a better father to daughters Malia and Sasha than his absent father was to him, and to be a better husband to his wife, Michelle.
He told the graduates to pay attention to their families, saying success in every other aspect of life means nothing without success at home.
“I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you,” he said. “But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.