President Obama on Sunday summoned the graduates of historically black Morehouse College to "transform the way we think about manhood," urging the young men to avoid the temptation to make excuses and to take responsibility for their families and their communities.
Delivering a commencement address at the all-male private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Obama spoke in deeply personal terms about the "special obligation" he feels as a black man to help those left behind.
"There but for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes," Obama said. "I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family - and that motivates me."
The president also reflected on the absence of his father growing up, noting that he was raised by a "heroic single mother" and urged the young graduates not to shrink from their family responsibilities.
"My whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn't for my mother and me," Obama said. "I want to break that cycle -where a father's not at home, where a father's not helping to raise that son and daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man."
Obama was far more personal and reflective in his remarks than he traditionally has been, especially on matters of racial discrimination.
He paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse alumnus, noting that King's education there "helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America."
Obama added, "Laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as president of these United States."
Yet Obama acknowledged that "the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation" have not vanished, that discrimination still exists.
"As Morehouse men, many of you know what it's like to be an outsider, to be marginalized, to feel the sting of discrimination. That's an experience that a lot of Americans share," Obama said.