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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Morehouse College Commencement Highlights Dignified Protests & Urges Immediate Gaza Ceasefire

During Morehouse College‘s 140th Commencement Ceremony on Sunday in Atlanta, Georgia, there were dignified protests and calls for immediate ceasefires in Gaza. The commencement followed over a month of students and faculty members expressing strong opposition to President Biden’s visit and his handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

As the graduates filed in for the ceremony on Sunday, some were noticeably wearing Palestinian flags and keffiyehs, a headdress typically worn by men in the Middle East, draped around their shoulders.

In his speech before the president’s address, Morehouse College valedictorian, DeAngelo “DJ” Fletcher called for an “immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza.”

“It is only right for the class of 2024 to utilize any platform provided to stand in solidarity with peace and justice,” Fletcher said. “The Israel-Gaza conflict has plagued the people of its region for generations.”

“It is my stance as a Morehouse man — nay, as a human being — to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Gaza strip,” Fletcher said. “Hear the people of this world sing the song of righteous justice.”

While there were no disruptive protests, students and faculty expressed their opposition in different ways. A few graduates turned their chairs when Biden spoke, and one faculty member stood with her back turned to the president while raising her right fist.

Notably, there was an age divide in support among Morehouse graduates. When President Biden began his commencement speech, Morehouse alumni gave a standing ovation, while the graduates remained seated.

When Biden began speaking, faculty held up the Democratic Republic of Congo’s flag prominently behind him. The country is involved in its own humanitarian crisis stemming from unprecedented violence in the country. President Biden directly addressed the issue, saying, “What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking.”

“We can’t stop wars that break out and break our hearts,” Biden said. “I want to say this very clearly: I support peaceful, nonviolent protests. Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them.”

Later, he revealed that even his own family is frustrated by failed attempts to create lasting peace in the region.

“What after? What after Hamas? What happens then? What happens in Gaza? What rights do the Palestinian people have? I am working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution. The only solution: for two people to live in peace, security and dignity,” Biden said. “It is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about it. I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family.”

During his commencement speech, President Biden somberly urged Morehouse College graduates not to give up on democracy, acknowledging their anger over the war, while also warning about the risk to American freedoms.

Biden later noted he’s also called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s why I’ve called for an immediate cease-fire. An immediate cease-fire, stop the fighting. Bring the hostages back,” Biden said. “I’ve been working on a deal as we speak. Working around the clock to … get more aid into Gaza, rebuild Gaza.”

The Reverend Hardy Spurgeon Bennings III, who delivered a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony, also spoke about the war in Gaza and conflicts in other regions. He encouraged the graduating young men to hold those in power accountable and to advocate for the protection of human life everywhere.

“God, make this class those men with a moral conscience that will cause this country to be mindful of its moral duty,” he said, later adding: “Make these men men who will hold our communities and our country accountable for valuing human life.”

“Whether it is a baby in a mother’s womb, or whether it is a baby who a mother expects to come home in the afternoon, whether it’s a child in an underprivileged school or a charter school, whether they live in Israel or Palestine, Ukraine or Russia, the Congo or Haiti, God, give us men who will value life and call us to accountability,” the reverend said.

Morehouse College praised students’ silent protests during Biden’s commencement address. “We are proud of the resilient class of 2024’s unity in silent protest, showing their intentionality in strategy, communication, and coordination as a 414-person unit,” the college said in a statement.

“peaceful assembly is core to the Morehouse College social justice tradition.”

The college also praised Biden and his administration for “listening and, most importantly, applying what our community and the global society have requested.”

“The work is nowhere near finished, and Morehouse College will continue centering consequential, nuanced dialogue and critique to foster positive societal change,” the college said.

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