Biden endorses students’ right to protest at Morehouse College commencement

The president also called for an ‘immediate cease-fire’ during the speech, along with a release of hostages

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MAY 19: U.S. President Joe Biden onstage during the 2024 140th Morehouse College Commencement Ceremony at Morehouse College on May 19, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)

President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address on Sunday at Morehouse College, a historically Black college in Atlanta. College administrators had faced pushback from some students who criticized the school for choosing Biden as speaker, citing his positions on the Israel-Hamas war. 

Biden’s address encouraged graduates to help build a more diverse and inclusive America and touted the Biden administration’s commitment to racial justice. In the speech, Biden opted not to ignore the foreign policy elephant in the room — he expressed support for dissenting voices, and for students’ right to protest. He also called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza and a return of the hostages.

“But I also know some of you ask: What is democracy if we can’t stop wars that break out and break our hearts? In a democracy, we debate and dissent about America’s role in the world,” Biden said. “I want to say this very clearly: I support peaceful, nonviolent protest.”

The president described the situation in Gaza and Israel as “heartbreaking,” describing the horrors of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks and the “innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of all this.” He acknowledged the visceral emotions felt by many young people in America upon observing the war in Gaza, hinting that the issue hits home for his family, too.

“This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. And there’s nothing easy about it. I know it angered and frustrates many of you, including my family. But most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well,” said Biden.

Zooming out, Biden tied his goal of a cease-fire in Gaza to his administration’s regional diplomacy. “I’m also working around the clock for more than just one ceasefire. I’m working to bring the region together. I’m working to build a lasting, durable peace,” he said. 

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