President Obama offered a message of hope Saturday to Howard University’s graduating class.

During an emotional commencement speech at the in Washington, D.C. school Obama touched on race relations and said that the country is “a better place today” than it was when he graduated from Columbia University in 1983.

“Given the current state of political rhetoric and debate, let me say something that may sound controversial,” the President said. “America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college.”

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

“America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college,” Obama said in one of his final commencement addresses as President.

 

He added that more black people are earning bachelor’s degrees, coming into positions of power and creating change, but he cautioned that there was still work to be done.

“You will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism … at every stage of your life,” he warned.

The President, in his last year in office, added that the country “also happens to be better off than when I took office, but that’s a longer story.”

The line drew cheers and applause from the audience at the historically black college in the nation’s capital.

Obama alluded to the nation's increasingly chaotic political landscape, derisively noting the “current state” of “rhetoric and debate.”SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Obama alluded to the nation’s increasingly chaotic political landscape, derisively noting the “current state” of “rhetoric and debate.”

 

Obama quickly added “that’s a different discussion for another speech.”

The 54-year-old president told the graduates that most of them were just starting high school when he was first elected to the White House.

“I used to joke about being old,” he said with deadpan delivery. “Now I realize I’m old. It’s not a joke anymore.”

With News Wire Services