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*-- Obama to Howard grads: Be more engaged in society --*

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Howard University on Saturday, urging the mostly young black graduates to be more engaged in society.

Obama also reflected on race relations at the historically black college, telling students America is a better place not just for black people, but for all people in 2016, than when he graduated college in 1983.

"It may sound like a controversial statement -- a hot take -- given the current state our political rhetoric and debate, but America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college," Obama said. "It also happens to be better off than when I took office, but that's a longer story."

Acknowledging the strife felt in many urban communities between black residents and police, Obama encouraged the students to "be confident in your blackness."

"Racism persists, inequality persists. But I wanted the class of 2016 to open your eyes to the moment you are in," Obama said.

The president also chided the black community for not being more engaged in the political process.

"You don't have to risk your life to cast a ballot," Obama said. "Someone already did that for you. What's your excuse?"

The commencement address, long a favorite venue for presidents, especially those nearing the end of their tenure, is the first of three the president is scheduled to give this year.

Obama will also speak at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., later this month.


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