Letter to the Graduates

Dear Graduates of 2001:

I extend to each of you my personal and most heartfelt congratulations on the eve of your graduation from Alma Mater, Howard University.

With the accomplishment of this milestone in your young lives, you have earned the privilege of sharing this University’s legacy of excellence with all of the Howard alumni who have shaped our global society: the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the late Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris; Diva Jessye Norman and Actor Ossie Davis; Alliance Capital Management International Chairman Frank Savage and Lazard Frères and Company Senior Managing Director Vernon Jordan; Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and Novelist Zora Neale Hurston; Congressman Elijah Cummings and Bishop Vashti McKenzie.

Each of these stellar alumni shares a love for Alma Mater. Each could also boast of a very real and active involvement in the growth and vitality of our institution. Each has served as an ambassador for all that Howard University represents to our nation and to the world. Each enlivens our motto, veritas et utilitas, truth and service, adding to a collective stream of alumni commitment that spans the globe.

You must now take up and share this mantle. Your willingness to do so is what will distinguish you from colleagues and competitors alike throughout your life.

As you begin your personal, social and professional journeys you will undoubtedly face many challenges. In 2001, you will encounter the same racism against which my classmates and I marched in the 1960s. You will encounter the threats and realities of war against which students of my generation rallied in the ‘70s. You will encounter the same proclivities toward economic disenfranchisement that made “redlining” an all too common practice in the ‘80s. And you will, I pray, fight to narrow the digital divide that as late as the 1990s still plagues our communities.

As you confront these and other challenges, I am confident that you will do so armed with the spiritual and intellectual wealth bestowed upon you during your days at the Capstone. 

You will stand strong because you have an army of intellectual stalwarts like Alain Locke and Estelle Wormley Taylor standing behind you. You will speak boldly and eloquently because you have the words of bards and literary giants like Sterling Brown and May Miller Sullivan coursing through your veins. You will think critically, beyond an adversary’s parameters, because you learned to strategize like James M. Nabrit Jr., to analyze like Kelly Miller, and to dream like Lois Mailou Jones. You shall not be moved because you, like Kwame Turé, have strength of heart, fueled by the blood of our ancestors. And you shall always prevail because you will summon up the vision of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson.

As you go forward, bolstered by the love and support of family and friends, always remember that the ground upon which you stand is higher ground. You are leaders, sons and daughters of Howard University. Your home is on the Hilltop!

I give you my very best wishes for your every success.


H. Patrick Swygert,