Senator Reverend Warnock Delivers Commencement Address for Morehouse College Class of 2022

On Sunday, Senator Reverend Warnock, a graduate of Morehouse college (1991), delivered the commencement address to Morehouse College Class of 2022, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree

Senator Reverend Warnock to Morehouse graduates: “God always dreams a dream for us bigger than the dream we dream for ourselves until we gather enough courage to think bigger”

Senator Reverend Warnock to Morehouse graduates: “Morehouse teaches us that you ought to give your life over to something larger than yourself”

Senator Reverend Warnock to Morehouse graduates: “So, as you go out into the world keep the flame alive. The world needs your voice. Be a candle in this present darkness”

Senator Reverend Warnock delivers address to Morehouse Class of 2022 (Photo courtesy of AJC/CurtisCompton/Curtis.Compton@)

Washington, D.C. — On Sunday, Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), a graduate of Morehouse College (1991), delivered the commencement address to Morehouse College Class of 2022, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.

View full speech can be viewed here (Senator Warnock’s remarks begin at 1:46:40) with a transcript below:

“Hello Morehouse College! Let the church say Amen — it’s Sunday morning.

“What a joy and a privilege it is to stand here with you. I said to my colleague and my good friend and brother Congressman James Clyburn, you’re the Majority Whip. You’re the Dean of the House. You’re a man of many achievements. But today you became somebody. You’re a Morehouse man. To my Morehouse family on this magnificent occasion and in this defining moment in our nation’s history, I’m grateful to be here with you.

“This is the commencement, the beginning of new things, and I am now forever a member of the great Class of 2022. This is my class. Most of you are around 22. I’m 52. But we’re in the same class. You have hair and I don’t. But we’re in the same class. And eyes have not seen, ears have not heard. Neither hasn’t been revealed in the hearts of humankind the great things that God has prepared for those who love God for this mighty Class of 2022. Give them a great big hand. Come on, they deserve it. Let’s hear it for our graduates. Black men who have crossed the threshold and deserve it. Today’s about you.

“Thank you, President Thomas, for this great honor and thank you for your great leadership as you continually raise the standard and raise the money and I want to offer up as a down payment on ongoing work that all of us must do: $25,000 contribution from Ebenezer Baptist Church and from me. To you and your leadership team, the faculty and the staff, the graduates and for all of the mothers and the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers the aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers and neighbors let’s hear it for the village.

“This is for me a full circle moment: when I came to Morehouse, brothers, in the fall of 1987, I didn’t have enough money for the first semester. Some of you know that story. I came to Morehouse on a full faith scholarship, that’s when you don’t have enough money, but you come anyhow.

“My parents’ annual income was about equal to the tuition room and board, but I was determined, and my parents were short on money, but they were long on faith. Both Pentecostal preachers and they poured that faith into me — you know what it’s like when you grew up in a household with preachers, they were preaching all the time. Sometimes just talking about regular everyday things they delivered it in King James English.

“My mama would say ‘thou shalt wash the dishes, lest I smite thee with my rod and my staff.’

“And when I arrived on this campus in the fall of 1987 and there were brothers here who came from middle class families and families that were affluent, some dressed already like they were on Wall Street, hadn’t been to the first class. There I was struggling, trying to figure out how I was going to make it through the first semester, and I look to my mom, and I looked to my dad, both generous now, but a family of twelve and I looked at my dad, hoping he’d give me just a few dollars to get started.

“My dad looked at me and he spoke to me in King James English. True story, he said ‘Son, silver and gold have I none—but such as I have, I give unto thee. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’

“Here my mom gave me a great big hug, got in the car and drove off into the horizon. Left me standing there. Well, four years later, some of those guys I knew who were driving those fancy cars were driving past this stage. I was standing on this stage, getting my degree! Cum Laude and thank you Lordy.

“But why did I come? I came because I was determined. To study here where Martin Luther King Jr. studied. I was born a year after his death but I’m telling you I was summoned to this place by his spirit.

“God always dreams a dream for us bigger than the dream we dream for ourselves until we gather enough courage to think bigger. I just wanted to attend Dr. King’s school. I had no idea I would become the pastor of Dr. King’s church.

“I was captivated by his moral leadership, the strength of his courage and his convictions, wanted to be in this place. Benjamin Elijah Mays mentored him and so many other young men where he would say to the men of Morehouse: ‘to everyone there openeth up a way and a way and a way. The high soul climbs the high way, while the low soul gropes the low and in between on misty flats the rest drift to and fro but to each one they openeth up a high way and the low and each one must decide which way his soul would go.’ Mays said, ‘it is not what you keep but what you give that makes you happy.’ We make our living by what we get, we make our life by what we give. I have only a minute, sixty seconds in it. ‘Forced upon me I can’t refuse it, didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it. But I must suffer if I lose it give account if I abuse it, a tiny little minute but eternity is in it.’ I wanted my minute to matter.

“Something about this place. Something about being in that chapel where I was mentored by great teachers, great teachers. But none poured more into me than the dean of this chapel, the founding Dean Lawrence Edward Carter, who has poured his life into this school. Let’s hear it for Dean Carter. He deserves it. Mentored so many of us, he deserves it. When I got elected president of the chapel assistance, knowing that I’d have to attend all of these events, when I was here the class leaders they always showed up to convocation and all of the events dressed you know, in their suits. And like many of you, I just had one suit. And I said ‘Dean, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I got one suit.’ He said ‘young man where you’re headed, a suit will be the least of your concerns.’ Put on the full armor of God put on your moral armor, the world awaits your voice. Walking past that statue of Martin Luther King Jr. every day with Dr. King’s finger pointing resolutely into the future did something to me. 

“Now you stand on these very grounds where we celebrated Dr. King. Think about that, in 1968, this is where we gathered as he met his apotheosis and his spirit rose to touch the face of God.

“Reminding us that Morehouse teaches us that you ought to give your life over to something larger than yourself. You seek to save your fate, your life, you will lose it, but if you give your life over to something larger, you will discover your life. That’s what Morehouse does. And so, I just dropped by to say to my class that today isn’t just the graduation. Today, Morehouse is officially giving you your last and greatest assignment. I know you passed the exams but here’s your homework.

“Morehouse men this is about the legacy of a candle in the dark. Jesus said ‘light, let your light so shine.’ Others might see your good works and glorify not you but your God who is in heaven, give yourself over to something larger than yourself and I’m telling you, you will find yourself. Let your light shine, keep the flame burning, a flame that was carried to the Western Hemisphere from the distant shores of an African west coast, where we already knew God. Flame that was used to illuminate the books of our ancestors as they hid and read when it was illegal for them to read and that lit the path of slaves who fled by foot to freedom. Keep the flame alive.

“A flame that lit a fire in the basement of a church in Augusta, Georgia to provide formal education to formerly enslaved black men, and for 155 years has served as a pilot light, helping to fuel progress for our nation and our world. 

“It is a flame that burned in Dr. King and Howard Thurman and Maynard Jackson and Julian Bond. It is a fire that burns in Calvin Butts and Otis Moss III and Jeh Johnson, and in Sanford Bishop and in David Satcher, and Sam Jackson and Spike Lee and PJ Morton — it is a fire of purpose that burns in me, and I took that fire with me to the United States Capitol.

“First, not as a Senator, but as a citizen, as an activist I went to the United States Capitol in 2017, with a group of preachers because they were passing a tax cut for the richest of the rich taking resources away from the poorest of the poor. We gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol. There we were singing and praying, praying and singing. The Capitol Police came to me and they said, ‘Reverend, you can’t sing and pray in the Rotunda in the Capitol.’ I thought to myself ‘somebody needs to pray.’ They said ‘we’ll give you three warnings. If you don’t disperse after the third warning, we will arrest you.’ Somebody should have told them that I went to Morehouse, that I had already been immersed in the tradition of civil disobedience. The Capitol Police, they were good. They were professional. They didn’t rough me up. They took me to central booking. They said ‘we’re going to arrest you,’ what they didn’t understand was that I had already been arrested. My mind and my imagination had been arrested by this idea that we are better than this as a nation, that we are a country called to look out for one another — E pluribus unum, out of many one.

“Well, I can report to you that the same Capitol Police who escorted me that day to central booking can now escort me to my office. Now I sit in some powerful rooms. Every now and then in the Oval Office, talking to the President of the United States about our future together.

“And this kid from the housing projects can sit there and know that he belongs. I belong there. You belong in those rooms. I know it because I received at Morehouse a vaccine that inoculated me against the virus of an inferiority complex caused by internalized racism. The Morehouse experienced immunized me against low self-esteem and all of its vicious variants.

“So, as you go out into the world keep the flame alive. The world needs your voice. Be a candle in this present darkness.

“Last night’s violence in Buffalo is a painful reminder of the sickness that grips too many, COVID 1619 and all of its vicious variants. Morehouse is part of the answer. Brothers fight racism with all of your might. But not only that, resists racism, yes. But if you are true and authentic moral agents, you cannot stop there. Fight sexism and misogyny and homophobia and toxic masculinity and every form of bigotry and xenophobia with the same moral outrage and commitment.

“And, if the door opens for you, make room for your sister. You will help her, and you will help change some corner of the world. I know what I’m talking about. I knew I needed to run. I knew it was time. I felt the unction of the spirit but who could have imagined what a difference it would make? Who could have imagined that it would have given us the narrowest of majorities possible and that because I won, I could cast my vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court.

“So do the work. Know that I’m doing my part advocating for you in the halls of Congress. I’m proud that I was able to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in historic investments for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, schools that have been doing so much for so many for so very little for so long, that people just expect us to do it. We’ve been punching way above our weight. America needs to invest more in our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and I’m going to fight with all in my mind to

make sure that you get your share.

“Sadly, as I close, I’m not able to announce to you as one commencement speaker did. Look, I work for the government, and a little church up the street. I can’t pay off your loans, brothers. But I am pushing President Biden to cancel student loan debt. Because I told you I came on a full faith scholarship. But faith has to come alive. Somebody gave me a Pell Grant. Somebody gave me some low interest student loans and since I graduated, the world has changed and now student debt is larger than credit card debt in America. Think about that — larger than auto loans.

“I believe that our children should not have a mortgage before they have a mortgage. So, I’m going to fight for you. But in the meantime, keep the flame alive. The world needs your voice. Stand tall. This is my class. 

“The Class of 2022: I’m proud of you already, stand tall. Don’t let anybody discourage you. Don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t belong. Don’t let anybody turn you around. If you have a mountain just climb it, if you have a river, just cross it, if you have a dream, just chase it. If you have a vision, just pursue it. If you have an idea, just do it, if you have a bad habit, just break it, a handicap, overcome it, a talent, just develop it, a song just sing it, a testimony, just tell it, a sermon, just preach it, a vote just cast it, I could tell you for whom to cast it. But because you have life, just live it.

“Go forth Class of 2022! Imagine the unimaginable. Think the unthinkable, conceive the inconceivable, achieve the unachievable, do the impossible! The whole world waits to see what you shall become.”