Opening Remarks by
Mr. H. Patrick Swygert,
President, Howard University

Commencement Orator, Bishop Deveraux
Distinguished Honorees
Ms. Allyson Clarke
Chairman Savage
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.

ollege 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 here today.

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 true.

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 world.

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 times before.

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 struggle.

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 your matriculation.

-- 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 year.

-- 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 summer.

-- 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 and Sciences.

-- 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 University.

-- 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 you.

-- 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 brighter day.

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 alone.
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 measurement.

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.

Thank you.