The Covid-19 pandemic has redefined the national ‘normal,’ including the way students celebrate their graduation day. On Saturday, May 16, Chase Bank presented a virtual celebration to honor the Class of 2020 graduates from historically Black colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country. The tribute, Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition, honored more than 27,000 students from 78 HBCUs.
Kevin Hart hosted viewers through the 2-hour ceremony that featured countless celebrities and notable members of the Black community, most of whom are proud HBCU grads themselves. Former President Barack Obama delivered the official commencement address, and the featured celebrities also left words of wisdom for the Class of 2020.
Here’s what happened:
Rapper Rapsody opened the ceremony with a “Roll Call” rap, spitting a few lines including, “From the yard to the homecoming to the probate it’s true… you the truth…You know your value and your worth the culture you came from you’re destined for greatness”
Graduates also enjoyed performances by Anthony Hamilton and Wyclef Jean. Doug E. Fresh tuned in from his studio and did a drumline mash-up where “Daz,” representing Bethune-Cookman University, turned a few of his beat boxes into drum counts.
Nearly 60 presidents from the institutions of higher-education came together to leave their graduates with a heartfelt mashup message, where many of them shouted out the schools’ mascots or initiated their schools’ unique call-and-response phrases.
HBCU graduate (Florida A&M University) and proud HBCU dad (Howard University) Common saluted the valedictorians, reminding them of how proud they should be and Chris Paul introduced 5 noteworthy students being honored from the entire HBCU 2020 class:
- Usman Tijani of Delaware State University, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in BS in Management with a concentration in Marketing
- Ayanna Kelly of Florida Memorial University (FMU) who received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Kelly shared, “The road has been long and tough but Class of 2020 we did it…I chose FMU because “I was looking for a way to help people that look like me and I am so happy with my decision.
- Erica Young who received her Juris Doctorate from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall Law School of Law (TMSL) shared that she chose her HBCU because of her priorities: integrity, resilience and excellence. “TMSL Class of 2020 started law school with Hurricane Harvey and ended with Covid-19 so I think I know a thing or two about resilience. These years have taught me to never give up.”
- Brandon Allen, who graduated from Howard University and served as Mister Howard University 2018-19 received a degree in Strategic Legal and Management Communications Major. The first generation college student shared, “I fell in love with my blackness and I learned how to be unapologetically Black.”
- Trezeur Butler, graduating from Paul Quinn College (PQC) closed rounded out the highlighted students and she shared “The biggest thing I learned from PQC was to always wake up with a purpose…really know what you want and set goals everyday to accomplish those things.”
Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO kicked off the words of wisdom sharing, “Work hard, always take care of yourself: your mind, body, soul, spirit, families…it’s great to have a purpose in life, we are proud of you and what you have already accomplished. Stay self, healthy and motivated. Sekou Kaaland – Head of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways reminded students about the program he leads, sharing how it is designed for their success because it “focuses on what really matters for Black people.” Other business executives also chimed in including Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett, Ariel Investments Co-CEO and President Mellody Hobson, National Urban League president, Marc Morial.
Janice Bryant Howroyd, the first Black woman to build and own a billion-dollar company, The ActOne Group represented her alma mater, North Carolina A&T State University, and was full of school spirit when she cam onscreen, “Aggie Pride!…Make sure you love your universities and support them in a way that they can continue to grow…Let’s love all of them as Dr. King taught us to do.. Let’s remember to give back to them as we move forward”
Omari Hardwick shared a thought-provoking, original poem:
The list of celebrities who hopped on camera to honor the thousands of Black college graduates seemed never-ending and many sported t-shorts and hoodies representing their alma mater or favorite HBCU. Snippets of their messages to the grads:
Tasha Smith: “It is your time to shine and regardless of what the world is going through right now you have exactly what it takes to make the world a better place.”
Debbie Allen: “The world is desperate to hear from you” Know that today is the beginning of your journey”
Rob Morgan: “Live for yourself. Do stuff that feels good.”
Shaun Robinson: “It was at Spelman that I learned the value of sisterhood and when you invest in a girl, she can change the world”
Keenan Ivory Wayans shouted out his alma mater, Tuskegee Institute and wished the Class of 2020 Congratulations.
Codie Elaine Oliver “15 years later Howard [University] and my love of HBCUs runs deep in my blood…The HBCU experience is unparalleled..show the world your walk, you deserve it”
Terrence J (in his Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. shirt) Shared that what makes HBCUs so amazing to him is the “rich tradition, heritage, incredible sporting events, homecoming, academics, camaraderie and love.” He shouted out his fraternity brothers and told everyone, “Don’t worry we’ll be back on the Yard soon.”
Sarah Jakes Robinson shared what she is praying for, saying “Your next may not look like your friends next or you dad’s next or your moms next…I personally cannot wait to see how my world becomes better because of people like you.”
Wendy Raquel Robinson very energetically shared, “Heyyyyyy! Congrats to the Class of 2020. Y’all did that. Y’all Did it!…The race isn’t given to the swift but to the one that continues all the way to the end…You are legendary, you are black excellence. You are class of 2020, good and plenty”
Will Packer “The world is crazy right now…there have always been times in history that have been defining points..this moment is not too big for you”
Dr. Mareena Snowden Robinson, the first Black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering shared professional composition statistics including:
In 2017 – Rosalind Brewer became the first African American and COO at Starbucks and she was named 43 in Forbes ranking of world’s most powerful women.
In 2019 – Stacey Abrams – Became first Black woman to be nominated by a major party for governor.
Vivica Fox “You have made it through 4 years of college and now you’re about to enter the school of life”
Ashley Blaine Featherson “Enjoy, have fun and know that this is a major accomplishment”
Richelieu Dennis “You have stuck with it, you have preserved and now you are graduating…Being of mind of what your north star is will get you through many challenges…Think about what your north star is. Think about what your life’s purpose is and drive toward your purpose.”
Steve Harvey “Affectionately known as Uncle Steve, I’ll probably be talking to you in that capacity today…you are now graduates from almighty HBCUs…” as he called himself shared “this thing that yall have accomplished is major. Make no mistake about it, you ought to be up on your toes have your chest stuck out, and I salute you for all of that…I’m going to share with you three things:”
1-“Focus on your dreams, vision, and your imagination.”
2-“Having an unrelenting work ethic.”
“Just in case you didn’t know.. Psi Phiii” (paying tribute to his fellow Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. members)
A few politicians joined in on the celebration as well!
Tim Scott – US Senator, SC and co-chair of the Congressional HBCU Caucus shared “I believe when we invest in our schools, it will reap dividends for everyone”
Congresswoman Alma Adams, NC and founder of the Congressional HBCU Caucus shared “HBCUs have been providing pathways to education and upward mobility for more than a century” and “HBCUs are in the business of education and our 2 greatest assets are our students and our alumni”
Kamala Harris “It was at my HBCU, Howard University that I became prepared for a career in public service..It was my HBCU that gave me lifelong friends and a sisterhood, when I joined a sorority.” (Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Inc.)
Even representatives from the National Basketball Association (NBA) left words of wisdom.
Mark Tatum NBA Deputy Commissioner, shared the story of the first African American to join the NBA and inspired the class of 2020 to inspire their dreams because even “the abuse did not deter Earl, he played 9 seasons, became a head coach and was inducted into the hall of fame.”
Cynt Marshall Dallas Mavericks CEO, offered 3 tips to the graduates: Be grateful, be ready and be nice.
Kyle O’quinn of the Philadelphia 76ers, Dropped in to shout out his alma mater, Norfolk State University and motivate all of the graduates.
Doc Rivers, head coach for the Los Angeles Clippers shared “Hang in there… you are going to make us proud. We need your voice right now.”
Vince Carter of the Atlanta Hawks shared, “Continue to thrive from greatness..learn from your failures.”
Other professional athletes Serena Williams and Stephen Curry also joined in the fun to show the grads how to “walk it out.”
After the graduating seniors enjoyed the performances and the drumline mashup and heard wisdom from business moguls, history-makers, actors, actresses, politicians, athletes and professionals who all look like them, the graduates heard an inspirational commencement address from former president Barack Obama, who also “looks like them.”
Watch the full address:
President Obama’s message to the class was warm, timely, relatable and action-inspiring. His key messages include:
“Graduating from college is a big achievement under any circumstance”
“Even if half the semester was spent at Zoom University, you’ve earned this moment. You should be very proud. Everybody who has supported you along the way is proud of you. Parents, grandparents, professors, mentors, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, second-cousins, cousins who you aren’t even sure are cousins. Show them some gratitude today.”
“Our society and democracy only works when we think about each other”
“While our HBCUs are mostly known for an education rooted in academic rigor, community, higher purpose…they also know how to turn up. Nobody shines quite like a senior on the Yard in springtime.”
“Let’s be honest, a disease like this only spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens, that Black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID19 on our communities. Just as we see it when a Black man goes for a job and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning. Injustice like this isn’t new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing. That the old ways of doing things don’t work. And that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; that our society and democracy only work when we think — not just about ourselves– but about each other.
More than anything, his pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A Lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge. If the world is going to get better it is going to be up to you.”
“Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore that this is how it’s always been done.”
“More than ever, this is your moment… your generations world to shape”
“I hope you are bold. I hope you have a vision that isn’t clouded by cynicism or fear. As young African Americans, you’ve been exposed earlier than some to the world as it is. But, as young HBCU grads, your education has also shown you the world as it ought to be.”
“Many of you could’ve attended any school in this country but you chose an HBCU specifically because it would help you sow seeds of change. You chose to follow in the fearless footsteps of people who shook the system to its core.”
“You made a great choice.”
“No generation has been better positioned to be warrior for justice and remake the world”
Three pieces of advice:
1- Make sure you ground yourself in actual communities with real people, working whenever you can at the grassroots level
2-You can’t do it alone. Meaningful change requires allies in common cause
3- “As HBCU graduates you have to remember that you are inheritors of one of America’s proudest traditions, which means you’re all role models …whether you like it or not.”
“You’re the folks we’ve been waiting for, to come along. That’s the power you hold. The power to shine brightly for justice and for equality and for joy.”
“You’ve earned your degree, it is now up to you to use it. So many of us believe in you. I’m so proud of you; and as you set out to change the world, we’ll be the wind at your back. So congratulations Class of 2020. God bless all of you.
This may not have been the traditional graduation ceremony, but it was by far the most celebrity studded, largest graduation many have ever attended. Congratulations again to the Class of 2020 graduates from all HBCUs.