Howard University graduates rang in one of the biggest accomplishments of their lives during the 155th Commencement Ceremony at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who was awarded a Doctor of Humanities degree, served as commencement keynote speaker. He told the graduates that no one chooses the political climate in which they graduate, but that, right now, they were at a time where they could make a real difference in the world.
“Fundamental questions are at stake for our nation: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? Who will we be? You're here to help answer those questions,” he said to the graduates.
In his address, President Biden reflected on his experiences as a public defender and his storied political career. From witnessing the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to witnessing history as vice president to the first Black President of the United States, Barack Obama, Biden has long been a champion for justice. He also took time to reiterate his commitment to social, racial and economic equity.
“It’s an honor to join you here today and receive an honorary degree from this great university. I am truly honored to be here at Howard. Chartered 156 years ago by an act of congress just after the Civil War. Founded on the hilltop in Washington,” said Biden. “Always promoting excellence, leadership, and truth and service. A proving ground for future leaders, trailblazing intellectuals, and the first Black vice president of the United States of America.”
Biden also reiterated his commitment to progress and support for HBCUs with the White House Board of Advisors on HBCUs and increased funding efforts. His administration is also the first to have an official convening of the Divine 9 housed at the White House. He closed his remarks with a message of hope for the graduating class.
“My sincere hope is that each of you finds the sweet spot between happiness and a life of ambition. You are part of the most gifted, tolerant, best educated generation in American history. You are the best of us,” said Biden.
In addition to Biden, five other individuals received honorary degrees. They included Duke University’s chancellor of health affairs A. Eugene Washington, M.D., MPH, MSc (B.S. ’72); corporate director and trustee Benaree Pratt Wiley (B.A. ’68); Congressman James E. Clyburn; prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago Keith Christopher Rowley, PhD; investment manager and co-founder of the Karsh Family Foundation Bruce A. Karsh; and co-founder of architectural and design firm Clark & Karsh and co-founder of the Karsh Family Foundation Martha L. Karsh.
With Mother’s Day this Sunday, graduates also had an opportunity to thank the mother figures for their unwavering support. Carol Griffith came to witness her daughter Hanifah walk across the stage. Hanifah received her master’s in social work.
Griffith remembers supporting Hanifah, who is from Trinidad & Tobago, when she was the only international student in her studies in her classes at one time.
“It was emotional,” Griffith said of Hanifah’s journey. “It was her will that she wanted to finish and complete this for herself. That’s why I brought my two granddaughters to see this so that it will give them encouragement to do even better than she did.”
Commencement served as a family gathering. Keisha Noel showed her support to graduating sister Kim Noel, whose dreamed of being a Howard grad since she was five years old. Keisha has a degree from the University of Long Island and noted that Kim’s new degree from Howard honors their mother Cheryl’s legacy and sacrifices.
“I’m a first-gen graduate and here comes my sister right behind me. To see her take this step, especially for our parents, it means a lot,” Keisha said.
Members of the classes of 1971 and 1972 joined the class of 1973 for their 50th reunions, after the pandemic delayed their reunions. They donned caps and gowns and joined the new graduates in the long walk.
“I come [to Howard] frequently but this is really special, it really is… and to see all the old classmates and to meet new classmates,” said Ina Siler, PhD (BA ’73, MA ’75)
Graduates in the Class of 2023
596 College of Arts and Sciences
88 College of Dentistry
18 School of Divinity
130 College of Engineering & Architecture
35 School of Education
52 College of Fine Arts
77 Graduate School
127 School of Law
75 College of Medicine
69 College of Pharmacy
226 School of Business
165 School of Communication
53 School of Social Work
141 College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences
Howard president Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, who hands his reins to incoming president Ben Vinson III, PhD, in September, called the next presidency “a bright new chapter” as his own comes to a close.
“I pray to have many more days ahead of me, and I will forever be an active member of this Howard family,” Dr. Frederick said. “Most transitions come with a hiccup or two, but I trust that we will reach the promised land. And we will get there not just because of the University president or the faculty or even the students, but as one collective body, all striving to do what is necessary to continue pushing Howard forward. And that starts with amplifying each other’s humanity and leading with love.”
The room gave Dr. Frederick a standing ovation as Board of Trustees Chairman Laurence C. Morse acknowledged Dr. Frederick’s legacy. “Dr. Frederick, the near and long-term outlook for Howard University has never been brighter, thanks to your extraordinary leadership of our Alma Mater,” he said. “Please know that you have left an indelible legacy on this campus, one that cannot be duplicated.”
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