Howard University graduates buzzed with energy, joy and accomplishment as they took their well-earned long walk in the 155th Commencement Ceremony at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C.
This year, 1,852 graduates were awarded degrees and walked across the platforms at their respective college and school ceremonies.
Kemariah Edwards, who received her bachelors in finance, sported a sense of relief to complete her degree as a first-generation graduate. She’s excited to share her expertise after surviving the hustle and bustle of higher education.
“I plan to really help people in terms of financial literacy and creating better financial options,” Edwards said. “Even my dad yesterday.... joked and asked, ‘Okay, so when are you going to start doing my taxes?’”
The decision to relocate the commencement ceremony from The Yard to the Capital One Arena was made Thursday when forecasts of heavy rainfall threatened to disrupt the tradition. Graduates and guests were welcomed into the arena flanked with Howard blue and “Excellence in Truth and Service” on the screens and a red carpet rolled out for the graduates’ long walk.
Fundamental questions are at stake for our nation: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? Who will we be? You're here to help answer those questions.”
U.S. President Joe Biden, who was awarded a Doctor of Humanities degree, served as commencement keynote speaker. He told the graduates that no one chooses the political climate in which they graduate, but that, right now, they were at a time where they could make a real difference in the world.
“Fundamental questions are at stake for our nation: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? Who will we be? You're here to help answer those questions,” he said to the graduates.
In addition to Biden, five other individuals received honorary degrees. They included Duke University’s chancellor of health affairs A. Eugene Washington, M.D., MPH, MSc (B.S. ’72); corporate director and trustee Benaree Pratt Wiley (B.A. ’68); Congressman James E. Clyburn; prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago Keith Christopher Rowley, PhD; investment manager and co-founder of the Karsh Family Foundation Bruce A. Karsh; and co-founder of architectural and design firm Clark & Karsh and co-founder of the Karsh Family Foundation Martha L. Karsh.
Through the Karsh Family Foundation, the Karshes established the Karsh STEM Scholars program at Howard and also donated $10 million to the GRACE grant. In an interview, Bruce Karsh lauded the graduates and expressed pride for his own honorary degree. “There’s a great sense of pride in being a Howard alum,” Karsh said. “We could see how effective and beloved an institution it is for so many people, so to be able to get an honorary degree is very exciting.”
Martha Karsh agrees. “[Howard University] is such an engine of opportunity, and that has underpinned our efforts to make the world better, to create those kind of opportunities. This kind of honor from a place like Howard is just really special to us.”
With Mother’s Day this Sunday, graduates also had an opportunity to thank the mother figures for their unwavering support. Carol Griffith came to witness her daughter Hanifah walk across the stage. Hanifah received her master’s in social work.
Griffith remembers supporting Hanifah, who is from Trinidad & Tobago, when she was the only international student in her studies in her classes at one time.
“It was emotional,” Griffith said of Hanifah’s journey. “It was her will that she wanted to finish and complete this for herself. That’s why I brought my two granddaughters to see this so that it will give them encouragement to do even better than she did.”
Commencement served as a family gathering. Keisha Noel showed her support to graduating sister Kim Noel, whose dreamed of being a Howard grad since she was five years old. Keisha has a degree from the University of Long Island and noted that Kim’s new degree from Howard honors their mother Cheryl’s legacy and sacrifices.
“I’m a first-gen graduate and here comes my sister right behind me. To see her take this step, especially for our parents, it means a lot,” Keisha said.
Members of the classes of 1971 and 1972 joined the class of 1973 for their 50th reunions, after the pandemic delayed their reunions. They donned caps and gowns and joined the new graduates in the long walk.
“I come [to Howard] frequently but this is really special, it really is… and to see all the old classmates and to meet new classmates,” said Ina Siler, PhD (B.A. ’73, M.A. ’75)
Howard president Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, who hands his reins to incoming president Ben Vinson III, PhD, in September, called the next presidency “a bright new chapter” as his own comes to a close.
“I pray to have many more days ahead of me, and I will forever be an active member of this Howard family,” Dr. Frederick said. “Most transitions come with a hiccup or two, but I trust that we will reach the promised land. And we will get there not just because of the University president or the faculty or even the students, but as one collective body, all striving to do what is necessary to continue pushing Howard forward. And that starts with amplifying each other’s humanity and leading with love.”
The room gave Dr. Frederick a standing ovation as Board of Trustees Chairman Laurence C. Morse acknowledged Dr. Frederick’s legacy. “Dr. Frederick, the near and long-term outlook for Howard University has never been brighter, thanks to your extraordinary leadership of our Alma Mater,” he said. “Please know that you have left an indelible legacy on this campus, one that cannot be duplicated.”
Howard Graduates by the Numbers
2,064 graduates in the Class of 2023
College of Arts and Sciences – 596
College of Dentistry - 88
School of Divinity – 18
College of Engineering & Architecture – 130
School of Education – 35
College of Fine Arts – 52
Graduate School – 77
College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences - 141
School of Law – 127
College of Medicine – 75
College of Pharmacy – 69
School of Business – 226
School of Communication – 165
School of Social Work – 53