Morehouse Students Turn Their Backs, Walk Out of Graduation as Joe Biden Gives Speech

Paras Griffin

While President Joe Biden gave a commencement address (and received an honorary degree) from Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday, May 19, several students staged pro-Palestine protests — some turning their backs and others walking out. The students who protested cited the president's ongoing policy decisions in Israel's war on Gaza.

Before Biden took the stage for his address, Morehouse valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher gave a rousing speech calling for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza strip," and was met with applause from both the crowd and Biden, who also shook Fletcher's hand. “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," Fletcher said.

The audience also included Morehouse alumni vocally supporting Biden during the ceremony, giving the president a standing ovation as he approached the stage, according to video taken from the event. Meanwhile, some graduates who wore keffiyeh scarves and Palestinian flags opted to turn their chairs away from Biden for the duration of his speech, according to the New York Times. Other graduates walked out of the ceremony as a sign of protest, though the Times notes that Biden's speech was largely uninterrupted. When he finished, attendees in the VIP section chanted, “Four more years.”

A Morehouse College faculty member stands and faces away from the stage in protest of the Israel-Hamas war as U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the Morehouse College Commencement on May 19, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I support peaceful nonviolent protest,” Biden told students in his speech. “Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them.” He also said he is "working around the clock” for an immediate ceasefire.

Young people across college campuses have protested the war with demonstrations taking place nationwide. Pro-Palestine students are demanding their schools disclose and divest from companies with financial investments or economic connections to military companies connected to Israel.

After Morehouse announced that it would welcome Biden to deliver the commencement speech this year and grant him an honorary degree from the historically Black college, current students and alumni pushed back on the Atlanta-area school, urging them to reconsider. In one open letter to Morehouse's faculty from a group with the Atlanta University Center Students for Justice in Palestine, Dr. Marlon Millner, class of 1995, asked that Morehouse “not award [an] honorary degree to someone morally complicit in a war in Gaza.”

“[Morehouse alumni Martin Luther King Jr.] challenged a historically courageous [Lyndon B. Johnson] on Vietnam after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. That’s moral courage, not moral complicity or moral complacency,” Millner wrote. “Morehouse does produce businessmen, but let’s not fail to produce better men. Morehouse does produce politicians, but let’s not fail to produce men of principle. This is a defining moment where actions, not accolades will matter.”

The October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel killed 1,200 people; since then, Israel's attacks on Gaza have killed more than 35,000 people, according to the Associated Press. The outlet reported last week that the Biden administration agreed to send another $1 billion sale of arms and ammunition to Israel.

President Biden's support in states like Georgia will be immensely important as the 2024 election approaches. The rematch between Biden and Republican candidate former President Donald Trump will shine a spotlight on Biden's handling of the war.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

More great activism coverage from Teen Vogue: