Opening Convocation marks the formal opening of the University, and is usually held the fourth Friday in September. Other than Freshman Orientation, this Convocation is the first major event for in-coming freshmen. A Convocation Orator is chosen by the Board of Trustees in concert with the University President and he or she is presented with a framed calligraphy citation of achievement. In addition, the orator may also be awarded an honorary degree. Past speakers have included: then Senator Barack Obama; Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D.; Bermuda Premier Ewart F. Brown, M.D.; the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder; the Honorable John Lewis; the Honorable Maxine Waters; Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie; Jesse Jackson, Sr.; Elaine R. Jones, Esq.; and the Honorable Alexis M. Herman, to name a few. Trustees and Distinguished Guests are on the stage at Cramton Auditorium with the President. A Luncheon honoring the speaker and VIP guests is held afterwards.
Charter Day commemorates the March 2, 1876 founding of Howard University. The Convocation and Luncheon are traditionally held on the first Friday in March, and the black-tie Charter Day Dinner (an annual fundraiser) is held on the following Saturday evening. Trustees participate in all events. Usually, at least four Distinguished Alumni are honored with Special Citations at the Dinner and participate in the Convocation ceremony and Luncheon. Past orators have included: Ossie Davis; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; LaSalle D. Leffall, M.D.; the Honorable Louis Stokes; Suzanne de Passe; William (Bill) H. Cosby; the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings; John Hope Franklin; the Honorable Deval Patrick; Toni Morrison; Phylicia Rashad; John E. Jacob; the Honorable Parren J. Mitchell; and the Honorable Kweisi Mfume, to name a few.
Commencement Convocation commemorates the formal graduation exercise and is traditionally held outdoors on the main campus on the second Saturday of May. Trustees participate in various traditional activities and ceremonies that honor the intellectual achievement of HU students and honorary degree recipients, of which there are usually four, not including the Commencement orator. In addition to the formal morning ceremony, there is a Prayer Breakfast and reception for all graduates, a Luncheon, and President’s Dinner for honorees and special guests, which is held on the Friday evening before the main event. Past orators have included: Oprah Winfrey; the Honorable Ronald H. Brown; the Honorable Hillary Rodman Clinton; Richard D. Parsons, Esq.; Gwen Ifill; General Colin L. Powell; the Honorable Shirley Chisholm; Earl G. Graves, Sr.; Dennis F. Hightower; Maya Angelou; His Excellency Kofi Annan; and Max Robinson, to name a few.
The Honorary Degree is conferred on a selective basis to distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for demonstrated achievement and distinction in a field or activity consonant with the mission of Howard University. It is the University’s highest honor.