Office of the President: Alternative 2020 Commencement Plans

Frederick at Commencement Slide

Dear Howard University Class of 2020,

You are a remarkable group, and I am grateful for the chance I had to become acquainted with so many of you.  I met some of you while I was a professor, whether you were my student or when a colleague invited me to be a guest lecturer.  I know many of you in my role as a physician, whether we stood together in the surgical suite or at a patient’s bedside. 

Of course, I have known all of you in my role as Howard’s seventeenth president, as I have had the honor of being a part of your entire journey.  Some of us first met when you came on your campus tour.  Some of us met on move-in day, when we both had to tell your parents that you would indeed be okay, and that it was time to say goodbye.  We have stood together to cheer on our Bison athletes, and we have gathered around the flagpole to both celebrate and mourn.

I have looked forward to taking the Long Walk with you, almost as much as you have.

I have been privileged to take that walk more times than most.  Three times, I circled a far-distant date on my calendar, giving myself the inspiration to continue onward toward my goal of receiving a Howard diploma despite the obstacles that may have been in my way.

As a faculty member, administrator, and now president, I have looked forward to making that journey with you from the moment I penned my remarks when I spoke to you at Opening Convocation four years ago.

I know how powerful that walk has been every time I have taken it.

I know that you all are hurting about not being able to take the Long Walk on your originally designated date of May 9, 2020.

This terrible pandemic is taking so much from so many people – especially our people.  One of the consequences is that it is unsafe, and in fact unlawful, for us to gather as we planned.  But that does not make it any less heartbreaking.

During Commencement Convocation, we aspire to achieve three things.

We confer degrees, recognizing the remarkable accomplishment of earning a Howard University diploma and the rights, privileges, and honors that accompany it.  Graduating students, families, faculty, staff, alumni – especially our 50th Reunion Class – and friends – come together as one community to continue the unique legacy that is Howard University.  Last, but certainly not least, we celebrate.  We applaud, shout, stroll, cry tears of joy, and we do it together with our village of family and friends who helped make the moment possible. 

After reviewing the student survey results, I write you today to share how we will honor the Class of 2020, mindful of these three goals.

First, we will host a “Virtual Ceremony for the Conferring of Degrees in Course” on Saturday, May 9, 2020 at 11 a.m.  This is approximately the same time you would have been awarded your degrees on the Upper Quadrangle.

Awarding a degree is a high honor Howard University bestows.  Your accomplishment to earn that degree is something that you, and all those who have supported you on your journey to this point, deserve to commemorate. I hope this dignified ceremony will be a moment for you to reflect on all you have achieved.

Second, we will be a community again, in person.

Commencement Convocation for the Howard University Class of 2020 will be held Mother’s Day Weekend 2021.  We will take the Long Walk together. While the Fall 2020 was a popular choice the uncertainty of social distancing guidelines, reopening guidelines throughout the country, and another wave of infections from the coronavirus in the fall necessitates that we move it to Spring 2021.

There are many details to work out in the months ahead and contingent on approval from public health authorities, because we will always put the safety of our Howard family first.  However, I will do everything in my power to bring us together to celebrate that weekend.

Third, we celebrate in ways that are the envy of students and alumni at every other university in America. 

We will celebrate in person over Mother’s Day Weekend 2021, but we don’t need to wait until then.

So many of you, and all our deans, have shared great ideas about how we can celebrate in this virtual environment in which we live.  I’ve heard suggestions of digital yearbooks, virtual brunches, departmental celebrations, among other suggestions.

I encourage you to continue to pursue these creative ideas.  My team will give Deans and student leaders the tools they need to allow us to celebrate virtually until we can celebrate in person over Mother’s Day Weekend 2021.

I know there is nothing we can do to fully heal the sense of loss stemming from the abrupt interruption to your final term, in addition to having to separate so quickly from campus, friends and classmates. But, I do hope you will see this as a down payment to heal that loss, and something to keep you moving forward until we can all be together again.

This will be a graduation delayed, but not deferred. You have earned your degree, but more importantly you have received an education that will allow you to change the world. Congratulations! Until then, know that the thoughts and best wishes of your faculty and staff are with you and your families. 

Yours in Truth and Service,

Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA
Howard University President