On Saturday, May 9, 2015 United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered the commencement speech at North Carolina Central University. It was the University’s 125th annual commencement exercise.
The tone of Duncan’s speech was very pro-NCCU and pro-HBCU.
It was evident from the beginning of his speech.
In referencing the era of Jim Crow in which NCCU was founded (1909) in, to the present day with the nation’s first African-American President, Duncan said, “These advancements have led some to suggest, foolishly, that we are somehow living in a post-racial society or that HBCUs are no longer as vital to our nation’s interest as they once were.”
Duncan congratulated students on their achievements, while encouraging them to push further in the pursuit of their goals with an entrepreneurial emphasis.
“I know that all of you already know this because Your Alma Mater here understands that at such a visceral level. An that’s why they’ve worked so hard to instill within all of you not just a commitment to truth and service but to adopting an entrepreneurial mindset in whatever path you choose to follow,” Duncan said.
Duncan referenced the founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, Bill Drayton, in saying: “Of all the skills a person can have today, no matter what the passion or profession might be, the one that is most vital toward becoming a true social entrepreneur is empathy.”
He made it a point to highlight first generation college graduates in the graduating class, in addition to highlighting the history of NCCU and the continued importance of the institution and all HBCUs.
In speaking about President Obama’s goals and vision, Duncan said, “he wants America to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. We simply cannot achieve that goal without colleges like North Carolina Central University leading the way. We need this university and all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) not just to survive, but to thrive going forward if we hope to have stronger communities and a stronger nation.”
As he began to close his commencement address, he referenced NCCU’s founder, Dr. James E. Shepard, and his infamous saying, “The Eagle is no common ordinary barnyard fowl.”
Duncan later confirmed his agreement with this saying by Dr. Shepard, his enjoyment of the experience, and the importance of all HBCU’s in a tweet sent from his official Twitter page.
The full commencement can be viewed at this link http://www.nccu.edu/live/ with Secretary Duncan’s speech beginning around 1:57:48.