Morehouse College Valedictorian DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher

Morehouse College Valedictorian DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher (front center) wears his graduation cap with a Palestinian flag motif, before U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during Morehouse College's graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2024.

(Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Morehouse Students Show Solidarity With Gaza During Biden Commencement Speech

"It is my stance as a Morehouse man, nay as a human being, to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip," said valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher.

Advisers for U.S. President Biden reportedly saw Morehouse College, a historically Black men's college in Atlanta where he gave the commencement address Sunday, as a school where the president was unlikely to face protests over his continued support for Israel's assault on Gaza, which has been the subject of mass demonstrations led by students at universities across the country over the past month.

But students and faculty made clear at the ceremony that many of them, like others in higher education, are intent on sending Biden a strong message of disapproval over his Israel policy.

A number of faculty members and students wore keffiyehs, the traditional scarves worn in parts of the Middle East including Palestine, and by some supporters of Palestinian rights to show solidarity with civilians in Gaza. Others displayed the Palestinian flag on their graduation gowns.

ABC News White House correspondent Selina Wang reported that while most of the alumni present at the graduation stood up when Biden was introduced, all but a few of the students remained seated.

The war in Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since October while receiving billions of dollars in military aid from the Biden administration, was directly mentioned by valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher, who had placed a Palestinian flag motif on his graduation cap.

"It is my stance as a Morehouse man, nay, as a human being, to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip," said Fletcher as Biden sat behind him and applauded. "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."

Some students and faculty turned their backs when the president gave his address, in which he said he supports "peaceful, non-violent protest." Other students walked out of the ceremony, but Biden's speech was not disrupted like the last time he addressed a group of college students at George Mason University, when protesters interrupted him 10 times.

Biden has been rebuked by First Amendment advocates for suggesting the Palestinian solidarity and anti-war protests that have spread across college campuses in recent weeks are inherently antisemitic, and for failing to speak out against aggressive police responses to protests at schools including Emory University, Columbia University, and University of Texas at Austin.

"It's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That's why I've called for an immediate cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting. Bring the hostages home," said the president, adding that he is "working around the clock" to secure a two-state solution in the Middle East and to ensure aid is allowed into Gaza, where key border crossings are now closed by Israel.

Middle Eastern policy expert Assal Rad said Biden's call for a cease-fire seven months into Israel's escalation amounts to "nonsense," considering his administration's veto of several cease-fire resolutions at the U.N. Security Council and the $17 billion military aid package Biden signed in April for Israel.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Israel's assault on Gaza, and Black voters, a key constituency who supported Biden in 2020, are no exception.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found last month that 68% of Black Americans wanted the U.S. to demand an immediate and permanent cease-fire, and 59% said conditions must be applied to U.S. military aid to Israel to ensure the Middle Eastern country is using U.S. weapons for "legitimate self-defense and in a way that is consistent with human rights standards."

While 66% of Black Americans overall said their feelings toward Biden had not changed due to his Israel policy, those under age 30 were more likely to say their views on the president had become more negative since October.

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