Nestled within the nation’s capital, the historic Howard University stands, its hallowed halls echoing with the pulsating hopes and dreams of a generation eager to carve out their niche in the world. This illustrious institution, a historically Black university, has always been a beacon, a lighthouse guiding ambitious, capable minds to the shores of success. In its classrooms, future engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs and industry titans are forged, eager to script their unique narratives in the annals of American history.
When President Joe Biden took to the podium at Howard’s 2023 commencement, one would have reasonably expected him to inspire, to offer words soaked in wisdom and insight, to breathe life into visions of a future shimmering with promise. Yet, the president chose a different path, deciding to dwell on race — a significant yet singular aspect of our shared experience as a nation.
There is no denying that race forms an integral part of our national tapestry, but it is not the whole picture. The young men and women at Howard are not just “Black” students.
They are, first and foremost, individuals, each with a distinct set of aspirations, a unique set of challenges to overcome and a personal catalogue of triumphs. They are America’s next generation of leaders, a diverse cohort whose interests and concerns span far beyond the confines of race. As such, their graduation ceremony shouldn’t be about race; it shouldn’t be marred by the president of the United States declaring “white supremacy” as the “most dangerous terrorist threat” to the nation. Remarks that categorize individuals as threats based on their race, ethnicity or beliefs are not suitable for a graduation event — a time meant for rejoicing in accomplishments, rather than delving into divisive topics.
By placing such an unwavering focus on race, we risk minimizing these young people to a single facet of their identity. We subtly imply that their most pressing concern should be the color of their skin, rather than the weight of their thoughts, the grandeur of their dreams and the potential impact of their actions. We seem to forget the variety of subjects that could, and should, be addressed: economic policy, global diplomacy, technological advancements, climate change. These are the challenges and opportunities of their era, the real concerns that need addressing.
Let us not forget, it is 2023, not 1963. The world around us continues to transform, and our conversations need to reflect this evolution. We must acknowledge the complexity and diversity of thought that exists within the African American community, and not confine them within the walls of an oversimplified narrative that fixates on their race.
As we step into the future, our demands from our leaders must grow. We must demand an acknowledgment and appreciation of the full range of our experiences, the richness of our dreams and the diversity of our identities. We must strive for a discourse that values us not just for the color of our skin but for the quality of our ideas, the depth of our character and the breadth of our potential.
The horizon is just opening up for the Class of 2023. Each one of them is embarking on a journey that is unique, challenging and filled with promise. To them, I say: You are more than a label. You are more than the color of your skin. You are the embodiment of the American Dream. This Dream is as varied, as complex and as wonderfully unique as each one of you.
Each one of you carries within you the power to effect change, the potential to shape the future and the capacity to redefine the narrative. And that narrative should not be one that is confined by the color of your skin. It should be a narrative that is shaped by the breadth of your ideas, the depth of your insights and the strength of your resolve.
The world is waiting to hear your stories. So, go out there, challenge the status quo, break the stereotypes and rewrite the narrative. Show the world that you are more than just a label, that you are a force to be reckoned with. And in doing so, remember that your journey is not defined by your race but by the power of your intellect, the tenacity of your spirit and the purity of your ambition. It’s not your color that determines your value, but your values themselves, your commitment to excellence and your willingness to stand for what is right.