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05/31/2016 02:04 pm ET

Congressman John Lewis Urges Bates Grads To Get Into 'Good Trouble'

"You must find a way to get in the way and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."

U.S. Representative and civil rights hero John R. Lewis left the graduates of Bates College with a stirring message about making change in the world by getting into trouble.

Lewis, who received an honorary degree from the school on Sunday, recalled asking his family about why Jim Crow laws existed when he was a child. He said his mother responded by telling him, "That's the way it is, boy. Don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble."

However, he said didn't heed his mother's advice.

Motivated by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work, the congressman said he wrote King a letter telling him where he wanted to go to college and King responded with roundtrip bus tickets from Lewis' hometown in Alabama to Montgomery where he would be speaking. Lewis met King in 1958 and thereafter he became involved in the civil rights movement.

"He became my inspiration, my leader," Lewis said. "And it was Dr. King who inspired me to stand up, to speak up and speak out. And I got in the way. I got in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble."

That trouble included being arrested more than 40 times during the 1960s for peaceful sit-ins and various forms of protest for a more just society. He implored the graduating class to do the same.

"You must find a way to get in the way and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. To save this little piece of real estate that we call earth for generations yet unborn," Lewis said. "You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate when you leave here to go out and seek justice, for all. You can do it, you must do it."

Watch Lewis' entire commencement speech in the video above. 

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