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Notable Speakers Take Center Stage at HBCU Commencements

A memorable component of graduation day at college is the featured speaker.

This year, several historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have notable names gracing their stages to offer words of uplift and inspiration to the resilient undergraduate class of 2024.

“The Class of 2024 is one that persevered through their academic journey like no other class in recent history, ending high school with canceled proms and graduation ceremonies, and entering college in isolation because of the pandemic,” Howard University President Ben Vinson III, Ph.D. said in a statement, acknowledging the university will host its ceremony for 2,500 graduates at Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C., which is home to the NBA’s Washington Wizards and WNBA’s Mystics. “The resilience, fortitude, and faith that sustained them through undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges of our time is deserving of additional efforts to celebrate their accomplishments.”

Thasunda Duckett, Thasunda Brown-Duckett

Howard welcomes TIAA President and Chief Executive Officer Thasunda Brown Duckett as its commencement speaker. TIAA is a Fortune 100 provider of secure retirement and investment solutions to millions of people working in higher education, healthcare, and other mission-driven organizations. She is also a 2024 Black Enterprise Woman of Power Legacy Awardee.

From media and ministry, music and business, to the highest elected office in the land, here are a just few of the many notable spring 2024 speakers for HBCU undergraduate commencements:

  • Alabama A&M University: NFL Hall of Famer John Stallworth, an alum of the university, and Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman
  • Benedict College: Dr. Michael L. Lomax, President and CEO of UNCF
  • Bethune Cookman University: Ivory McGregor, global impact leader, BeyGOOD Executive Director
  • Bowie State University: Wanda Durant, inspirational speaker, HBCU advocate, philanthropist, mother of NBA All-Star Kevin Durant
  • Claflin University: Nicole Nelson-Jean, Associate Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and a member of the Federal Senior Executive Service. She is a Grambling State University alumna.
  • Delaware State University: Jamaican Prime Minister, The Most Honorable Andrew Holness, ON, PC, MP, will be the first-ever Prime Minister to be the keynote speaker at this HBCU.
  • Fisk University: “TODAY” show co-host Al Roker and wife Deborah Roberts, ABC News “20/20” co-anchor
  • Howard University: Thasunda Brown-Duckett, CEO of TIAA, 2024 Black Enterprise Woman of Power Legacy Awardee
  • Jackson State University: Distinguished Jackson State alums: U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler of California and U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi
  • Jarvis Christian College: Rep. Bennie Thompson, 2nd Congressional District of Mississippi
  • Lincoln University: Renowned human rights advocate and founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, will be the keynote speaker at Lincoln’s 165th Commencement Ceremony in Pennsylvania.
  • Morris Brown College: Chart-topping gospel artist and producer Kirk Franklin has more than 20 Grammy, Dove, and Stellar awards each to his credit.
  • Morehouse College: The 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden. This announcement has sparked controversy among staff and students.
  • Norfolk State University: Del. Don Scott (D-88th District), who became the first Black House speaker in the Virginia Legislature’s 400-year history.
  • North Carolina A&T University: Tamron Hall, award-winning journalist, executive producer, and host of the nationally syndicated “The Tamron Hall Show”
  • Prairie View A&M University: United Airlines Vice President Phil Griffith. This Grambling State alum also serves as an Aviation Management department board member at HBCU Texas Southern University.
  • Spelman College: Honorary Oscar-Award-winning actress Angela Bassett
  • Texas Southern University: U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett, representing Texas’ 30th district.
  • Tuskegee University:  Dr. Dietra Y. Trent, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. Dr. Trent spoke with Black Enterprise on key issues facing HBCUs.
  • Wiley University: Dr. Marla Frederick is the John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity and the 18th Dean of Harvard Divinity School—the first woman to hold her current position in the School’s 207-year history.

HBCU presidents also expressed their excitement with their respective featured speakers.

“Kirk Franklin will be our commencement speaker May 18, here in Atlanta, at Big Bethel AME Church. He will be bringing forth a word for our graduates,” Morris Brown College president Dr. Kevin E. James told BLACK ENTERPRISE, noting 2024 marks Morris Brown’s largest graduating class in 20 years. “We are very, very excited to have him here and we look forward to meeting with him.”

Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF

At Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax is the keynote speaker. The Morehouse alum and former Dillard University president has been at the helm of UNCF for 20 years, where the organization has raised more than $5 billion to help more than 500,000 students graduate college since 1944.

“We welcome one of the world’s biggest champions for HBCUs,” said Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, president and CEO of Benedict. Under Dr. Lomax’s stellar leadership,” Dr. Artis said Benedict College has benefited greatly from UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building and partnerships with Congress, the White House, and the Department of Education to further advance HBCUs.