The President and Olivia Pope Give Commencement Speeches
Anyone who watches ABC’s hit drama Scandal knows exactly what I was doing with that title. I honestly am a huge fan of the show. And, while the title is a bit misleading, it is actually completely true. This graduation season, we saw an epic end to this season of Scandal but we also saw Kerry Washington, aka Olivia Pope, giving the commencement speech at George Washington University and President Obama addressing Morehouse College graduates. Both speeches gained notoriety but for very different reasons. And, shockingly enough, Olivia Pope came out the champion while the POTUS struggled for headway.
Why We Care What Kerry Washington Has to Say
Kerry Washington has been on the Hollywood radar for quite sometime. But, most of us were introduced to her when she played the baby mama sister and friend of Julia Styles’ character, Chenille, in “Save the Last Dance” (2001). Since then, she has starred in a host of films and series’. But, her recent role as powerful DC political “fixer”, Olivia Pope, has just about changed the universe. In many ways, Washington has morphed from her regularly demure and modest self into this ferocious, cunning, power player we have come to see in Pope. And everyone is taking notice.
But, this weekend, she gave the commencement address at her alma mater, GWU, while providing a more intimate view of herself. What is funniest about Washington is that her prominent role on Scandal chronicles the harrowing life of a high-powered DC hussie who is sleeping with the President of the United States. Her role as a successful mistress, dubious political actor, and deathly loyal frenemy has garnered her immense acclaim. And, many watchers seem to be forgiving of the role she portrays. Black women have rallied behind her and folks all over the place worship her incantation of Miss Pope.
But, the ACTUAL President of the United State had a much more difficult time from critics after his commencement speech this year.
Why We Are Not Supposed to Care About What President Obama Has to Say
As the nation’s first historically black college to produce a Rhodes Scholar, Morehouse College represents many things to the black community. The ideals and goals for attainment at the college were among the first to advance the scholarly ideals of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.
But, aside from this notable history, President Obama had some pretty powerful words for the Morehouse’s graduating seniors on Sunday. Some have criticized him saying that his words were a bit chastising and condescending, but honestly, to them, I can only say: really?
Yes, the President has made it clear that he is not one-dimensional (unlike the faux persona of Olivia Pope). He is not just a Black man as much as he is not just the Black president. So, why are Black people still expecting him to cow-tow to their every whim. I mean, really? It is his second term. Are we not over that yet?
In all, the speech really was your standard fare. But, he said some things that didn’t put a smile on everyone’s face. For example, the President noted that some folks haven’t necessarily followed the straight and narrow. Plainly, he said that some people made “bad choices.” Does it really bother us that much that the President acknowledges some folks’ “bad choices”? Have we not all made some bad choices?
President Obama also discussed how many Black students come from humble beginnings. He explained that the attainment of a college degree is both a gift and a responsibility:
“But along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities. There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves. There are some things, as Morehouse Men, that you are obliged to do for those still left behind. As Morehouse Men, you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you’re about to collect — and that’s the power of your example.”
And, the President went on to explain the importance of reaching back to those who have yet to realize their dreams:
“If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have — they need to hear from you. You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance. Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams. Don’t put them down.”
So, what is so appalling about all of this? I just want to understand this clearly: I should care what Olivia Pope has to say about random college experiences but I should denigrate the sitting, two-term, first Black President of the United States because he didn’t take time to beg the Black community for mercy and forgiveness at Morehouse this weekend? Puh-lease. Have several seats on that one Black community.
At some point, we will have to realize that these political and on-screen actors are humans just like the rest of us. They have many dimensions and layers of character just as we do. And, a one-dimensional character like Olivia Pope has no place garnering more admiration from us than the multi-dimensional POTUS. Perspective people. Get some.
View President Obama’s speech here.
View Kerry Washington’s speech here.
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