By Deborah Bailey
Graduation at the Washington-Baltimore area’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been a standing ovation experience this Spring in the area. All area HBCUs have returned to in-person events this year after many had postponed graduation ceremonies altogether in the early days of Spring 2020. Most campuses held hybrid celebrations in Spring 2021.
However, this Spring, nothing can hold our area HBCUs and their students back from joyful face-to-face celebrations spanning the I-495 and I-695 Beltways. Although all campuses are abiding by some Covid-19 protocols, including masking, social distancing and alternative viewing sites on campus, in-person celebrations have returned to the area.
The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) got the celebration started at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with renowned Civil Rights Attorney, Ben Crump serving as keynote speaker.
“If you ever get the opportunity to speak truth to power, you do it, baby, you do it,” Crump said, starting his speech with the encouragement his grandmother gave him.
Our ancestor, you all have to live up to your legacy,” Crump said to the graduates of UDC’s six Schools and Colleges including graduates of the David A. Clarke School of Law.
Less than 20 minutes away, Academy Award-nominated actress and Howard University Alumnae, Taraji P. Henson came home to the “Hilltop” to address a sea of Blue and Gold clad graduates at Howard University. Henson, the founder of a foundation advocating for mental health, understood the journey that many of the graduates had survived, graduating in what is now the third year of the Pandemic.
“You don’t like what you’ve been through,” she encouraged the graduates.
This weekend, HBCU commencement mania continued on May 20 as Bowie State University celebrates its first complete in-person graduation exercises since the start of the pandemic. To celebrate, Bowie State welcomed Jacqueline McWilliams Parker, the first female Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner as the keynote speaker. McWilliams Parker is in her ninth season as a CIAA Commissioner, is a member of the NCAA Board of Governors and will address Bowie State’s graduating class of Bulldogs.
Heading north on I-95, Coppin State University welcomed Baltimore Police Department Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe as Commencement speaker, also on May 20. The well-regarded Briscoe; rose through the ranks in the Police Department’s Western Division and oversees the Operations Bureau within the Baltimore Police Department, including the Patrol Division, Criminal Investigation Division, and Data-Driven Strategies Division.
“It is a privilege to continue the legacy of the many great alumni, from Fanny Jackson Coppin to our city’s first African-American Police Commissioner, Bishop Lee Robinson,” Briscoe said.
On May 21, Morgan State rounded out the area HBCU Commencement celebrations with a salute to social justice, honoring three “vanguards” of “social justice and the African-American Experience” according to Morgan State’s Commencement Committee.
The University would bestow honorary degrees to acclaimed Morgan alumnus and filmmaker David E. Talbert, who also served as Commencement Speaker, and Morgan alumnus David Burton, the chief proponent in the landmark Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Maryland Higher Education (HBCUs) vs. the State of Maryland lawsuit; and Super Bowl quarterback and champion for social justice, Colin Kaepernick.
“We are absolutely thrilled to bestow honorary degrees to David E. Talbert, David Burton and Colin Kaepernick for their individual, and collective, contributions to the progression of the Black narrative and pursuit of excellence,” added Wilson.
So, no matter where you travel on the 327-mile journey between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md., our HBCUs are celebrating a new class of graduates, with living examples of the tenacity, the creativity and the greatness that comes from the Black experience.
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