WASHINGTON (May 12, 2012) – Under a pale blue, cloudless sky, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan charged more than 2,200 members of the 144th graduating class of Howard University to pursue their passion as they move forward with hopes of successful careers and rewarding lives.
“Find out what you love, and you’ll find your own genius,” Duncan said. “Believe in your talent and you can achieve the unexpected.”
He encouraged students to remember the University’s legacy of service and to incorporate it into their daily lives as professionals and global citizens.
“Savor the moment,” he said, “but remember that you stand on the shoulders of giants.”
More than 20,000 family members, friends and alumni gathered outside on the main yard of Howard’s campus Saturday morning in northwest Washington to celebrate the graduates. Some attendees traveled from as far away as Africa, India and Pakistan to see their children and family members receive their degrees.
At the close of his address, Duncan praised Howard’s Ready to Teach program, which strives to increase the number of African-American teachers, particularly men, in public schools. He urged the graduates to consider a career in education.
“There’s more than one way to thank those who came before you, or to give back to those who come after,” he said. “I hope you will think about becoming a teacher, becoming a principal.”
The graduates of the University’s 13 schools and colleges included 84 students who received a Ph.D. from the University’s Graduate School. Howard graduates more African-American on-campus Ph.D.s than any school in the nation.
Graduates were also awarded nearly 300 doctoral degrees from the University’s Health Sciences colleges and schools. The College of Dentistry awarded 101 degrees, the College of Medicine 79 degrees, the College of Pharmacy 75 degrees and the College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences 26 degrees. The University annually graduates more African-American dentists and medical doctors than any other American institution.
Additionally, the School of Law conferred 146 degrees.
Duncan, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, was citation of achievement for his leadership in advancing public education. Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan was chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2008, the longest term for a big city superintendent in the nation.
During his tenure, 66.7 percent of the system’s elementary school students met or exceeded state reading standards, an all-time high. Their math scores soared to their highest level as 70.6 percent met or exceeded state standards. High school students posted gains on the ACT three times the national average and nearly twice that of the state. Also, the number of high school students taking advanced placement courses tripled and the number of students passing advanced placement more than doubled. Meanwhile, graduation rates increased and the value of scholarships awarded to Chicago high school students jumped to $157 million.
Four honorees were awarded honorary doctorates.
Recording artist and philanthropist John Legend was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humanities. Legend, the winner of seven Grammy Awards, has recorded three Top 10 albums, each of which reached number one on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop charts. He has also been active in humanitarian causes, focusing on education to break the cycle of poverty. He sits on the boards of The Education Equality Project, Teach for America, Stand for Children and the Harlem Village Academies. He is the national spokesperson for Management Leadership for Tomorrow, an organization working to produce the next generation of minority business leaders.
Broadcast journalist Chris Matthews was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Matthews, originated the political discussion television program Hardball, now on MSNBC, in 1994. He has been on the air every weekday night since. He also hosts “The Chris Matthews Show” on NBC Sunday mornings. The show, which weekly addresses political, economic and social issues confronting the nation, celebrated a decade this year. Matthews is also the author of five best-selling books, the most recent, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.
Juliennna L. Richardson, founder and head of the largest collection of African-American video oral history, was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humanities. Richardson, who has a diverse background in the humanities, corporate law, television production and the cable television industry, is the founder of The HistoryMakers. Over the past 12 years, The HistoryMakers has grown into a digital archive with users in 51 countries and numerous television programs, including The HistoryMakers Education Institute, Back to School with The HistoryMakers, and The HistoryMakers, an Evening With. Richardson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the YWCA Outstanding Achievement Award, and currently sits on the Honors Council of Lawyers for the Creative Arts.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters. Wilkerson is the author of the highly acclaimed New York Times best-seller, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. The book won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the 2011 Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Horace Mann Bond Book Award from Harvard University and numerous other awards. Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 while with the New York Times, making her the first African American woman to win the award. She has also won the George Polk Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and was named journalist of the year by the National Association of Black Journalists.