Letter from President H. Patrick Swygert

Dear Graduates of 2004:

Please accept my heartfelt congratulations as you complete this important milestone in your lives.

Graduations and occasions of this nature are not only wonderful times to celebrate, they are also critical watershed moments in our lives when we take stock of how much we have accomplished, how far we still have to go before we are even close to achieving our overall goals, and most importantly, how fleeting is the time in which we have to do it.

As you graduate today, I am sure that many of you are reminiscing about the first day you set foot on Howard’s campus to begin your undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree. How challenging it must have seemed then! Commencement was nothing more than a brilliant star on a distant horizon, and I am sure that there were many moments when some of you despaired that you would never get close to it. Well, you did, and I share in your feelings of elation and joy as you complete this phase of your life and prepare for the next.

Certainly, earning your degree is a tribute to your determination to reach your goals, regardless of the obstacles that might come your way. I know that for many of you the barriers were formidable. Financial hardships, difficulty adjusting to a new environment, or managing work, school, and family all at the same time served to complicate the process for some of you. Through it all, you kept the faith guided by the wisdom of your own inner voice and the support of friends and loved ones who are celebrating with you today.

Now, as you leave the gates of Howard University, some of you will be surprised to find that the degree you have worked so hard to achieve is not in itself the automatic golden key that you thought it would be. Some doors will remain closed to you, some ceilings will be far too low for your spirits, your ambitions, and your capabilities, and some opportunities will seem so exclusive that you will have to call forth every ounce of your courage and determination to ensure they become open to you.

The good news is that regardless of what you face outside, it is nothing new to the distinguished alumni of Howard University that you are on your way to becoming. Indeed, you are now an inextricable part of a tradition that is rich with real-life stories of leadership, heroism, courage, vision, and triumph that have played a defining role in the history of modern America and throughout the global community, and are also embedded in milestones like the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which we celebrate this year, along with your personal achievements.

Further, within the sacred space of Alma Mater, you have been nurtured both intellectually as well as with a sense of your own power as a human being. You have been inspired by professors, staff members, fellow students, and alumni who have dedicated their very existence to the creation of a better world for all of us. As heirs to that tradition, I expect that you too will triumph and by extension, expand and perpetuate that legacy.

As you leave today, I urge you to keep alive your love for Alma Mater and the knowledge that you are part of a proud and noble heritage.

Return with honor.


H. Patrick Swygert