President Barack Obama used his first opportunity to speak at an historically black college to compel graduates of Hampton University to work to close an education achievement gap that has grown wider since the 1960s.

After offering encouragement to the students that their degree gives them a better chance at workplace success, especially in a recession, Obama warned that far too many students do not finish college, and many more never go on to enter a school of higher learning.

Mr. Obama said all Americans have a responsibility “to change this, to offer every single child in this country an education that will make them competitive in our knowledge economy.”

But, he told the graduates, “all of you have a separate responsibility — to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities and, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children.”

And that valuable education is the integral feature of a democracy, said Obama. Without education, the members of a democracy cannot work together to make it function.

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