By Jaylen Williams, Staff Reporter
The late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings was a man of his word — a recurring theme during a tribute to the 1973 alumnus on Monday evening in the School of Business Auditorium at Howard University.
“Do you know what makes me different from other student leaders?” Cummings asked a dean during his sophomore year. “I do what I say I’m going to do.”
Cummings served in student government all four years of his undergraduate career. He was president and treasurer of the Howard University Student Association, sophomore class president and a member of the Meridian Hall judiciary board.
President Wayne A.I. Frederick said this was partially why he had every graduation speaker sitting with Cummings at the annual commencement dinner, because his Howard story and presence conveyed exactly what Frederick wanted them to understand about the university.
Besides Frederick, others attending Howard’s tribute included Cummings’ family; professors from the Department of Political Science; this year’s opening convocation speaker, Isiah “Ike” Leggett, fellow alumnus and former Montgomery County Executive; longtime friend and political analyst Donna Brazile, who presided over the tribute; and Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Dean of the School of Divinity, who gave the opening prayer.
Cummings died at age 68 on October 17, 2019, following complications from long standing health issues.
Cummings was hospitalized the morning he was supposed to be the keynote speaker at an award ceremony for the students of Allied Health Sciences.
He told Dean Gina S. Brown: “Gina, I’m a man of my word and I will do everything I can to be there.”
The dean managed to find another speaker, but Cummings still kept his promise. Cummings worked with the hospital to be patched into the Howard system. He said he would just give a few words to the students after the replacement speaker. However, Cummings gave his entire 22-minute speech from his hospital bed.
“Students applauded him as if he were actually there,” Brown said.
During the tribute, the Howard University Choir sang “Precious Lord” to a round of applause and “amens.” The president of the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., of which Cummings was a member, gave words of encouragement to those in attendance. Afterward, another chapter member led the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as people joined in.
Students from Howard Middle School recited some of Cummings’ most well-known and meaningful quotes, receiving a standing ovation. “You must have confidence in your competence,” and “When you’ve got integrity you don’t go figure out what the poll says, you just do what you know is right,” were among some of the quotes the students recited to honor Cummings.
Cummings’ daughter, Jennifer Cummings, closed out the ceremony by thanking her Howard University family. “My love of Howard University came from my father’s love of Howard University,” she said. “Whenever I get a little down and I want to feel comforted, I put on my Howard University sweatshirt. It reminds me of my dad and feels like I’m at home. Thank you for having a home here for my dad.”
A white oak tree will be planted for next spring in memory of Cummings, Brazile said. “It’s sturdy, it will lean but never break and it will be here for generations to come, as a symbol of Elijah Cummings’ commitment to this campus and our children.”