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‘I’m confident you’ll meet the moment,’ Biden tells S.C. State grads

Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 12:51 PM EST
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ORANGEBURG, S.C. - For the first time in South Carolina State University’s 125-year history, a sitting president served as its commencement speaker.

President Joe Biden came to the campus Friday, saying the graduation had come at a “tumultuous and consequential moment” in history.

But he said Friday’s graduates had the chance to change the trajectory.

“No graduating class gets to choose the world and under which they graduate,” he said. “Every class enters the history of the nation up to the point that has been written by others, but few classes every once in a few generations enter at a point in American history where it actually has a chance to change the trajectory of the country.”

Biden said that’s not hyperbole.

“You face that inflection point today,” he told the graduates. “I’m confident you’ll meet the moment. You’re ready because you’re part of a proud and sacred tradition. An HBCU tradition. More than 180 years of excellence. Institutions that instill a sense of purpose and commitment to make a difference in all their students. Not just to lift up yourself, but to lift up others.”

WATCH THE SPEECH:

One of the graduates walking Friday was U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

Clyburn graduated from South Carolina State in 1961 but was unable to walk across the stage because the school did not have a December ceremony.

Clyburn was originally scheduled to be the ceremony’s keynote speaker but offered to step aside if Biden could speak.

In addition to advice to graduates, politics made an appearance in the speech.

Biden pledged to fight for stalled voting rights and police reform legislation.

Biden spoke a day after he conceded that his nearly $2 trillion social and environmental bill was unlikely to become law this year due to continued disagreements among fellow Democrats. Republicans are united in opposition to the proposed spending.

He bemoaned Republican opposition to voting rights bills that have stalled in the 50-50 Senate following passage by the Democratic-controlled House, telling his audience that “that other team” has blocked even debate over the measures.

“That other team. It used to be called the Republican Party,” Biden said, digging at his political opposition. “But this battle’s not over. ... We’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done.”

Biden pledged a similar advocacy for police reform, another issue important to the Black community but that failed spectacularly in Congress after months of once-promising negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who could not reach agreement on a bill.

Biden touched on the infrastructure bill he recently signed into law, but avoided deeper discussion of his centerpiece social welfare and environmental bill. That measure remains stuck in the Senate.

In the address, Biden also pledged to help stamp out hate and racism, and talked about his appreciation for historically Black colleges and universities.

Biden and Clyburn had been planning a gathering in South Carolina, Clyburn told reporters this week, and they figured Friday’s ceremony would suffice. The meetup is significant for both, in that it’s Biden’s first time as president in South Carolina, where Clyburn’s public support is credited with boosting Biden him to the Democratic presidential nomination.

From reports by WCSC and The Associated Press