Biden Gets Muted Response at Morehouse After Weeks of College Protests

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

President Joe Biden’s commencement speech at Morehouse College on Sunday went off mostly without a hitch, though a handful of students and faculty turned their backs on him as he spoke while some walked out altogether—a muted response for a modern president as pro-Palestinian sentiments continue to roil higher education.

Biden’s speech at the historically Black men’s college touched on many of his campaign’s pillars, including his economic wins and his calls for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, while acknowledging policies that have boosted Black Americans. The speech was Biden’s first direct interaction with college students after a month of protests across U.S. college campuses, including Columbia, the University of California-Los Angeles, and the University of Florida.

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Biden was greeted with a standing ovation from multiple Morehouse alums as he took the stage, according to a video posted on social media, though students largely remained seated. About six students turned their backs towards Biden as he spoke, according to NBC News, in a continuation of various protests at commencements nationwide over the war.

Biden did not acknowledge the action, though he noted what was happening in the Middle East was “heartbreaking” and reiterated his support for a ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a two-state solution.

“I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family,” Biden said. “But most of all I know it breaks your heart, breaks mine as well. Leadership is about fighting through the most intractable problems. It’s about challenging anger, frustration and heartbreak to find a solution. It’s about doing what you believe is right, even when it’s hard and lonely.”

Some graduates also walked out as Biden was awarded an honorary degree, according to The New York Times. Morehouse President David Thomas commended the president for a “thought-provoking” speech that outlined Biden’s visions for the future.

“You spoke to the hard issues confronting our nation and the world at this moment,” Thomas said.

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