It’s commencement time for many HBCUs.
Last week I spoke at Fisk University and Saturday I address the graduates at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
As with all commencement speeches, my goal is to motivate and inspire, something I struggled with this year more than others. I mean, there are always some proud moments that distinguish a class from previous ones. In 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for school at Alabama State despite Gov. George Wallace blocking their way. In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action. In 1995, the Million Man March was held in Washington. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States.
But even with highlights like Gabby winning the gold and the re-election of the Big Chief, we have to face the fact that the class of 2013 will graduate facing major debt and high unemployment.
But I only had to wallow in this puddle of gloom and doom for a short time until I realized that in spite of the way the future looks, getting a four-year college degree is the first weapon in the fight for good jobs most graduates seek.
One article I read outlines the benefits of having a college degree including higher lifetime earning, access to jobs with better benefits, and the fact that it opens the door to networking opportunities that can turn into more. But even if this is true, and I believe it is, the bottom line is most college graduates are going to have to work longer and harder to achieve their goals, even if those goals are as basic as moving out of their mama’s and daddy’s house in two years.
Still, other graduates in other times have faced much bigger challenges than these, yet they somehow were motivated enough to succeed. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the graduating class at Howard University and here’s an excerpt of what he said:
“For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities–physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness. To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”
I’m not sure how many graduates actually listen to the commencement speeches. I can barely remember mine. But I’m pretty sure that most grads, whether they’re entering a season of peace and prosperity or war and poverty, have the same emotions—worries that they might fail and hopes that they can live up to the expectations they and their families have for their future.
I’m just a DJ with a few honorary degrees, but I know that being prepared, getting there early, staying late, and being drug-free puts you ahead of the game no matter what career you choose. I also know that you should choose a profession that you love enough to do long enough to start making some money. I got into radio because I loved it, was pretty good at it and could wear shorts and flip flops to work. The money came years later.
Those of you who had a role in a graduate making it to this point, this son, daughter, nephew, niece or mentee might need you to be patient with them as they begin a new life after college…starting with a ride BACK home to your house. But that doesn’t take away from what they have achieved up to now. It takes commitment, dedication, intelligence and perseverance to get a degree. It takes even more for them to realize the importance of giving back
once they’ve made it this far. If you’ve got a grad who has mastered these things, you should be very proud.
Congratulations, Class of 2013!