President Obama said Saturday that the country is "a better place today" than when he graduated from college more than 30 years ago, citing his historic election as "one indicator of how attitudes have changed," the AP reports. Obama delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2016 at Howard University, one of the nation's leading historically black schools. "A lot of folks didn't even think blacks had the tools to be a quarterback," Obama said. "When I was a graduate, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T." Today, he said, "we're producers, studio executives. We're no longer small-business owners, we're CEOs. We're mayors, representatives"—and someone in the crowd shouted out, "president."
"I'm not saying gaps do not persist. Obviously, they do," Obama said. "Racism persists, inequality persists." He called on Howard's 2,300 graduates to step up and take on the work of closing those gaps. He also listed unemployment, criminal justice, disease, and conflict worldwide, along with new challenges from terrorism and climate change, as other issues needing attention. "So make no mistake Class of 2016. You've got plenty of work to do," said Obama, who was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree. "But as complicated and intractable as these challenges may see, the truth is your generation is better position than any before you to meet those challenges." The address was the first of three commencement speeches Obama has scheduled this spring.