Opening Remarks by
Mr. H. Patrick Swygert,
Commencement Orator, Bishop Deveraux
Ms. Allyson Clarke
Members of the Board of Trustees
Platform Guests (Alumnus Mayor David Dinkins and Dr. Ronald Williams, President of Prince George’s County Community College)
Class of 53 – Pulitzer Prize winning author, Toni Morrison,
the former First Lady of New York City Mrs. Joyce Dinkins and Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford
1995 Distinguished Alumni Awardee and Former Dean, School of Dentistry.
Class of 03
Please join me in observing a moment of silence
in memory of the members of our armed forces who lost their lives in the
recent conflict in Iraq.
We extend prayers of peace and comfort to their
families and loved ones and to the troops who remain in harm’s way, many of
whom are our own students now serving in the reserves.
And now, please join me in welcoming our very
special guests —Howard University’s
graduating class of 2003!
After seven years of presiding over commencement
at Howard, you would think that by now I would be used to the exuberance, the electricity in the air, the
irrepressible joy among our graduates and their families who come to cheer
them on as they make the transition from college into the “real world.”
But as I look at
this audience today and see the dazzling smiles amidst the sea of blue
robes, I realize that no matter how often I do
this, I will always be moved by the jubilation of our young people.
College life, no matter how exciting, has its limits, I know. it does
not compare to the excitement of sailing life’s open seas, braving the
waves, falling overboard sometimes, picking oneself up and starting all over
again. graduation, a joyous rite of passage, brings this sharply into focus,
hence the sense of eager anticipation among all those fortunate enough to be
Beyond that, graduations here at Howard hold a
special meaning for all of us.
it is more than a spring ritual and more than the feeling of accomplishment
over a job well done.
it is more than the thought of graduates walking out of here, ready to hit
the pavements with their precious degrees under their arms—at least a
partial warranty against prolonged unemployment or under-employment.
Rather, graduation is a poignant reminder of how
far we have come as people of African-descent. it
is a timely reminder that we are merely a few generations removed from the
plantation and fewer yet from the stifling cruelty of Jim Crow.
Many of our students here today, are first
generation college graduates. This was not
necessarily because their parents lacked ambition. more often than not, it
was because they existed in a social and psychological environment that
limited their aspirations, and rendered a college education an impossible
dream. for those parents especially, it has to be particularly gratifying to
see their children accomplish goals that eluded them. theirs is a part of
this marvelous energy that I feel here today, and at every graduation
ceremony that I have been privileged to witness.
But regardless of whether they attended college or
not, all of our parents have played a critical role in shaping the lives of
our graduates. Some paid for the degrees; some
were just able to pass on the dream and provided inspiration and moral
support. others did everything.
Let us applaud the efforts of all the parents and
surrogate who are here today.
And let us applaud our dedicated faculty that
has been untiring in its efforts to prepare our students to take their place
among the leaders of America and the global
community. Since its inception 136 years ago,
Howard has been blessed with faculty who regard being here as a calling,
beyond professional obligation or material reward. the fine men and women of
our faculty have led the charge in health care, the law and civil rights,
engineering, business, dentistry, social work, communication, education,
divinity, and the arts. they have created the kind of environment where our
students have been free to dream, and work toward making their dreams come
And let us not forget the staff, the glue that
holds the University together. From the physical
plant staff responsible for keeping the campus safe and beautiful, to the
administrative staff responsible for the day-to-day running of the
University, everyone has played a crucial role in preparing our students for
the transition they are making today.
This graduating class, the Class of 2003, is making its transition at a particularly complex
time in history. Our country has just completed a
difficult and controversial engagement in Iraq,
one that was ostensibly aimed at making the world a safer place. Only time will tell, if the world is safer now
than it was before, or if the sacrifice of human life and resources was
worth the effort.
The military engagement is over and the troops are
beginning to return home to us, and to our country’s own ongoing effort to
make peace with itself, even as it seeks to define peace in the rest of the
The troops too are returning to the luxuries of
life in America, a far cry from their makeshift
homes in the desert. They are returning to loved
ones, to telephones, internet, warm baths, automobiles, apple pies, and all
the comforts of home. But they are also returning
to a sluggish economy that is impacting the quality of life for many of us.
All across the country, cities and states are
carrying huge deficits; a good education remains inaccessible to many of our
children; affordable housing is increasingly elusive for the working class;
the assault on affirmative action is threatening social gains for the
minority, and the scarcity of jobs makes the labor market increasingly
competitive. our graduates are leaving here today to face the toughest job
market in 20 years.
Truly, these are, in the words of Dickens, the best of times, the worst of times;
the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness; the epoch of belief, the epoch of
incredulity; the season of light, the season of darkness, the winter of
despair, and thank god, the spring of hope.
Amidst, all the challenges, there is hope.
Mine is a sense of hope anchored in an abiding
faith in the human spirit and in the knowledge that we have overcome tough
Mine is hope anchored in the knowledge that Howard
University graduates have never shied away from difficulties. On the contrary, they have confronted obstacles
with remarkable vision and courage, and in the process charted a progressive
course for succeeding generations.
Mine is a sense of hope anchored in the
understanding that we entered the world through a race that is legendary for
its fortitude, a race that is by now conditioned to its heritage of
Already, you too have learned that whatever is
worth having is worth fighting for. Whether it is
the abstract ideal of freedom, justice, dignity, and equality for all, or
the concrete goals of earning your degrees and ensuring a desirable quality
of life for yourselves and your loved ones, you have learned that you must
fight on even when there is little to call upon except your faith and the
marvelous resilience of the human spirit.
Among the graduating Class
of 2003, I have seen that fortitude. I have seen the wisdom and audacity of Marcus Garvey; the
unselfishness and courage of Harriet Tubman; the grace and dignity of Nelson Mandela; the
determination and tenacity of Martin Luther King jr.; the
fire and passion of Malcolm X;
and the formidable intellect of W.E.B. Dubois.
-- Classics major Marianna Ofosu, Howard University’s second Rhodes Scholar in four
years is graduating today. Marianna started life
in Poland, a child of mixed race parents. Even now, she still recalls the pain of being
ostracized as a little girl because she was “different.” She recalled her first day of school when the
headmistress announced that two children, different from all the others,
were starting school with them that year. one child was in a wheelchair,
the other was Marianna.
Despite all the challenges of her early life, Marianna is graduating today, a shining example
of our students’ promise and accomplishment.
-- Student Trustees Marwan Porter and Jaha Howard, best wishes as Marwan
undertakes the practice of law with the prestigious firm founded by Willie Gary, and Jaha begins dental school.
-- Also among the graduating Class of 2003 is Ndumiso
(n-du-mi-so) Davidson. After
graduating from South Africa’s
formerly all-white “Hilton College,”
he came to Howard at the urging of Queen Mother …. of the Royal Bafokeng nation to develop his leadership skills
in anticipation of a future role in national politics in South Africa. he is
graduating today, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude with a B.S. in economics.
-- History major Redahlia
(re-da-lia) person, the number one cadet out of forty juniors and seniors. Ms Person has earned
the distinguished graduate for Air Force ROTC award even
though she worked up to 30 hours a week for ups while pursuing her
studies. today she graduates with a 3.3 GPA.
-- Jennifer Joyce Cummings and Kacida Yasmeen Green today
you receive Bachelor of Arts
degrees as your parents Congressman Elijah Cummings and Congresswoman Christian Christensen look on with pride.
-- Summa cum laude graduate Vernella Velonie Verlin Vickerman you
earn the Bachelor of Science
in Chemical Engineering
today having maintained a 4.00 GPA throughout
-- Mark Hassell. Mark came to Howard University in the spring of
2000 with a 1590 SAT score. After
only a semester, Goldman Sachs
was so impressed with him, they gave him the opportunity to be a freshman
summer intern at their London office. In only three years, mark has completed his
degree in finance and is graduating today with a 3.8 GPA.
-- Paul Heath, a
physical therapy student, is also among the graduating class. Paul has just been named the 2003 Outstanding Physical Therapist Student
award winner by the American Physical Therapy Association
(APTA). He is the only
student to receive this award this year which recognizes academic
excellence, clinic performance, leadership skills, and community
activities. Moreover, Heath
was the only student to present a research paper at the Third Annual World Neurological Conference
in Venice, Italy this
-- Summa cum laude graduate Noelle Nichole Trent, your mother Dr. Janice Trent has mentored many students in the school
of communications. Your dad, the Reverend Earl Trent and the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, is a great
neighbor and friend of Howard University. They
are proud of you and so are we.
-- Ms. Danielle Conley, Nadine Jones Francis, and Robin Konrad are three
students from the School of Law
who filed an excellent brief in the Supreme Court, supporting affirmative action in the
recent case against the University of Michigan. These women, who have so forthrightly signaled
their intention of continuing Howard’s legacy in the fight for human
rights, are among the graduating class today.
-- Olu Burrell,
graduating today from the School of Education, picked up the gauntlet in the cause
of our sister HBCU Morris Brown College and initiated the “Save Morris Brown Campaign” at Howard. Just
yesterday he authored a letter urging supporters to make donations to the
college via a national program with Bank of America.
-- Evererette Austin Richardson, your
father Dr. Bernard Richardson, Dean of
the Chapel, has prayed and counseled many of
your classmates to this day. We know he thanks God that you are in that number today.
-- Also graduating from the Law School today is Ms. Elizabeth Akinola. Elizabeth comes from a family dogged by tragedy. Elizabeth, her twin sister and two of her
brothers were born blind, victims of a hereditary disorder. Her father died when she was six years old. Her mother died when she was twelve years old,
and after that life became even more difficult and uncertain. yet, she is
here today graduating on time with her class, the recipient of the Cali Award for the
highest grade in Torts II, Remedies, and International Business Transactions;
the Dean’s Public Interest Fellowship Award and a Cobb Scholarship from the Law School.
-- From the College of
medicine, Mr. Alrich
(al-rick) Gray is graduating today with the M.D. and Ph.D.
degrees. He is among the first three students to
complete our unique M.D./Ph.D. program
implemented in 1996. Last year, Mr. gray received the Franklin C. Mclean award from National Medical Fellowships, Inc. of New York City. This honor is
considered the highest national award that an underrepresented minority
medical student can receive. Mr. Gray will complete his residency at the Mayo Clinic this
-- Mr. Mirza Baig, who is completing his residency in neurosurgery at Ohio State University
this summer and, Sohail Chaudhry,
who is also completing his residency in radiation oncology from Thomas Jefferson
University this summer are the other two M.D./Ph.D. graduates.
-- Also from the College of Medicine, Ms. Funminiyi (foo-me-knee-yee) Ajayi
(ah-ji-yee) graduates today after starting her program in 1999 at the age
of 18. Ms. Ajayi has
earned the honors grade in every course taken at the College
of Medicine with the exception of one, and was
the only student in her class to be inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society as a junior. She
finishes medical school ranked 1st in her class.
-- Shana Lorraine Ervin, you
disappointed your parents 15 years ago when you failed to apply yourself. Today you make them proud as you receive the Bachelor of Business Administration in Computer-Based Management Information Systems.
-- From the School of Engineering, Augustine Caven will receive the Master
of Engineering degree in Electrical
and Computer Engineering.
Howard has become a major family affair for Agustine
who hails from Nigeria. All
five of his sisters are here at Howard in the Graduate School, the College of
dentistry, the School of Business,
and two in the College of Arts
-- From the College of Arts and Sciences, Uche (oochay) Nwamara
(n-wa-ma-ra) is a double major in history and classics. He is graduating with a 3.97 GPA and a
host of scholarship offers including a full doctoral package from Harvard and matched by Columbia
-- also from the school of arts and sciences, enobong “anna” alexander
graduates today at age 19 with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry
has been awarded the highly coveted fogerty international center
fellowship award to conduct state-of-the-art research in reproductive and
molecular biology at the University of siena, italy.
-- Lashundra Collins
will receive the M.S. degree in Communication Sciences
and Disorders. Ms. Collins is a 2001-2003 Bilingual Specialist Project Fellowship recipient.
-- And, graduate Maria A. Kane served as the
president of the chapel assistants. A classical
civilization and history double major and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, she
graduates today with a 4.0 GPA. She is headed for Duke
University in the fall where she will pursue theological studies on the Lilly Endowment Divinity Fellowship.
-- Computer information major from the School of Business, Kevin L. Simmonds was named to the 2002 Verizon Academic All-District 2 Football First Team. A honors
graduate and standout wide receiver, you are a four-time member of the MEAC Commisioner's all
academic team and a candidate for the college football hall of fame
post-graduate scholarship program. Your will
postpone graduate studies while you play in the NFL after being signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
-- And then, there is Cassandra Hill. Cassandra
recently became a first at Howard when she defended her Ph.D. dissertation in history via teleconference. Cassandra did not do it to make history. She is a terminally ill cancer patient who
physically could not be here for her defense. But
she was determined to complete her Ph.D. and win
this one great victory over fate. Dr. hill is a
graduate of the Class of 2003.
There are seventeen employees among the
graduating class who earned undergraduate or graduate degrees while
working full-time here at Howard:
- Nicole Brown-Sharpe
- Sandra Gains
- Lenworth Patterson
- Isaiah Harvin
- Clara Guyton
- Charlene Hogan
- Rozanna Aitcheson
- David Harris
- Gerard Kunkel
- Brenda Crawford
- Jermaine Robertson
- Dexter Pritchett
- Eric Walters
- Irma Ford
- Grace Ansah-Birikoran
- Brenda Taylor
- and Reverend Dr. Bowyer Freeman
I extend my heartiest congratulations to all of
-- One student, Ms. Kishawnda Maria Mcroyal, is being awarded the Bachelor
of Arts, posthumously. Ms. Mcroyal was on course to graduate with the Class of 2003. unfortunately, she expired on June 9, 2002, after returning from a year as an
exchange student in Ghana. Her
parents are here today to receive her degree.
our condolences go out to her family. We pray that
they will take comfort in Kishawnda’s achievements.
In all their accomplishments, these students and
many others too numerous to mention but with their own special stories to
tell, continue to feed our sense of hope that tomorrow may very well be a
Graduates like Dr. Hill, in particular, remind us of the many things we
take for granted.
She reminds us that sometimes life’s little
irritations are often not worth the attention we give to them;
She reminds us that life is too short, too
unpredictable to spend on the ignoble.
She reminds us that indeed the “dark threads are as
needful in the weaver’s skillful hands, as the threads of gold and silver in
the master pattern he has planned.”
Most importantly, she reminds us that there is a
power, a reservoir of strength and discipline that lies within all of us that
sometimes we do not know that we possess until we are called upon to challenge
ourselves in ways we never expected.
Sometimes the challenge is just completing college. It came relatively easy for some of you, but for
others it was a confused jungle of classes, parties, lost notes, exams that
you were never quite prepared for, anxieties over financing your education,
adjusting to life on your own. In fact, it all
seemed so difficult sometimes I am sure that some of you are still asking: “Lord,
just how did I get here?”
If it all seems like a jungle sometimes, you are not
If it seems like a mountain that’s way too high, you
are not alone. Life is filled with obstacles and
challenges that will surface when we least expect them.
That’s when, like Dr. Hill, we are forced to go deep inside of ourselves
and find that latent strength to do what we must do, for ourselves and those
who look to us for example and guidance and inspiration. You
will find that despite the difficulties, if you are resilient enough, you can
make your dreams come true.
You did not finish Howard University and attain the
noble status of graduate without learning a few things about challenges. Yet, here you are resplendent in your joy and
grateful that even in the worst moments you kept on going.
As you walk through the gate of Howard, I beg you to
understand that this graduation is merely one small phase of a journey, one
tiny patch woven in a quilt that will last a lifetime as you begin to channel
your skills and passion into a lifetime of leadership and service to humanity.
The challenges will come. It
is at those times that you must hold dear the legacy of Howard and the noble
traditions from which you have come. Recall that our
ancestors, our distinguished honorees, our faculty and all the people to whom
you look for inspiration, never got to where they are by giving up.
You too can make your dreams come true.
Your spirit too will triumph in the face of even the
most daunting challenges. As heirs to Howard
University’s legacy of accomplishment, you can do no less.
As you strive to achieve and build, cultivate a
grateful heart, have faith in your own power to overcome, and understand the
resilient spirit that is in all of you.
It was Marcus Garvey, the legendary Pan-Africanist
who noted that: God and nature first made us what we
are, then by our own creative genius we make ourselves what we want to be.
Follow always that great law, he said.
Let the sky be your limit, and eternity your
There’s no height to which you cannot climb, by
using the active intelligence of your own mind.
Mind creates, and as much as we desire in nature, we
can have through the creation of our own minds.
Graduates, I salute all of you today. I believe in
you, and the power of your mind to dream and create.
Go forth and do well.