On Sunday, President Joe Biden addressed the graduates of historically black Morehouse College and told them he heard their protests and recognized their anguish over the Israel-Hamas war.

“I support peaceful nonviolent protest,” he told the all-male graduating class. “Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them.”

Biden acknowledged the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and said he has “called for an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting” and bring home hostages being held by Hamas. His comments came toward the end of his commencement address.

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

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Biden has been known to limit comments about protests on U.S. college campuses to uphold the right to peaceful protest. His address was part of an outreach effort by the president to black constituents, whose support among this community has decreased since he took office.

During his speech, Biden condemned Donald Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and recognized that the class of 2024 entered college during the Covid-19 pandemic and following the murder of George Floyd.

“If black men are being killed in the street. What is democracy?” he asked. “The trail of broken promises that still leave black communities behind. What is democracy? If you have to be ten times better than anyone else to get a fair shot.”

The announcement that Biden would be the commencement speaker at Morehouse was met with some pushback from faculty and those who oppose his handling of the war. Morehouse alumni circulated an online letter condemning administrators for inviting Biden and gathered signatures to pressure Morehouse President David Thomas to rescind it.

There were no disruptions at Morehouse’s commencement, though applause for the president was subdued. At least seven graduates and one faculty member sat with their backs turned away from Biden during his address, and another student draped himself in a Palestinian flag. Protesters near the ceremony held signs that said “Free Palestine,” “Save the Children” and “Ceasefire Now.”

During his speech, valedictorian DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher said it was his duty to speak on the war in Gaza and acknowledge that both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered.

“From the comfort of our homes, we watch an unprecedented number of civilians mourn the loss of men, women and children while calling for the release of all hostages,” he said. “It is my stance as a Morehouse man, nay as a human being, to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

Biden shook Fletcher’s hand after his speech.

Morehouse also awarded Biden an honorary doctor of laws degree. After accepting the honor, the president joked, “I’m not going home,” as “four more years” chants broke out among students.

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