On Sunday, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Hampton University. The President reflected on Hampton’s history and the importance of education to Hampton’s first students – escaped slaves – and this year’s graduating class:
[W]e meet here today, as graduating classes have met for generations, not far from where it all began, near that old oak tree off Emancipation Drive. I know my University 101. There, beneath its branches, by what was then a Union garrison, about 20 students gathered on September 17th, 1861. Taught by a free citizen, in defiance of Virginia law, the students were escaped slaves from nearby plantations, who had fled to the fort seeking asylum.
And after the war’s end, a retired Union general sought to enshrine that legacy of learning. So with a collection from church groups, Civil War veterans, and a choir that toured Europe, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was founded here, by the Chesapeake –- a home by the sea.
Now, that story is no doubt familiar to many of you. But it’s worth reflecting on why it happened; why so many people went to such trouble to found Hampton and all our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The founders of these institutions knew, of course, that inequality would persist long into the future. They were not naïve. They recognized that barriers in our laws, and in our hearts, wouldn’t vanish overnight.
But they also recognized the larger truth; a distinctly American truth. 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. They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that “education…means emancipation.” They recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise. That recognition, that truth – that an education can fortify us to rise above any barrier, to meet any test –is reflected, again and again, throughout our history.
Source: White House.gov Blog Feed