DALLAS (CN) – Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke was awarded an honorary degree Saturday at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, urging graduates to “find joy in the work ahead” while warning of the growing influence of the powerful and privileged.
A former congressman from El Paso, O’Rourke spoke at the school’s 130th graduation ceremony at its campus south of downtown. It was his third visit to the historically black college in the past year.
He told graduates that “giving up is not an option for me and certainly not an option for you.” He reminded them of the school’s bell that originated from a former slave plantation that they all touched before the ceremony.
“Remember that we can turn one of the most shameful chapters in this country’s past and legacy into a symbol of triumph for the students here and for the country at large,” he said. “We must also acknowledge that the work is far from over, that the bell reminds us not just of what we have overcome but what we must still overcome in our lives.”
In a nod to the growth of white nationalism and xenophobia after the election of President Donald Trump, O’Rourke warned “the legacies of slavery and segregation, of Jim Crow, of suppression in every single part of this country in 2019 are alive and well.”
O’Rourke warned of the “inertia” of the powerful and privileged in the country continuing to amass power and privilege at the expense of others.
“It cannot be stopped it unless we choose to stop it, we need corresponding inertia to change,” he said. “The victories that have been won, the sacrifices that have been made, can be squandered and lost if we are not mindful of our responsibilities and opportunities.”
O’Rourke’s last noteworthy appearance in Dallas came six months ago when he debated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at Southern Methodist University. Initially considered a long-shot candidate in the Republican stronghold of Texas, O’Rourke was narrowly defeated by Cruz. O’Rourke’s surprising performance led to the “Beto Effect,” which credited him with Democrats scoring several surprise victories in state, county and Congressional races down the ticket.
O’Rourke announced his first major policy initiative earlier this week, unveiling a $5 trillion plan to fight climate change that he argues will prevent the Earth from passing the point of no return.
Hours before his commencement address, O’Rourke tweeted his support for fellow Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the first openly gay Democrat to run for the presidency. While speaking Friday night at the Dallas County Democratic Party’s Johnson Jordan Dinner, Buttigieg was interrupted at least four times by hecklers shouting “repent” and “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Buttigieg married his husband Chasten last year.
“Texans don’t stand for this kind of homophobia and hatred,” O’Rourke tweeted. “Mayor Pete, we are grateful you came to Texas and hope to see you and Chasten back again soon.”