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Howard Community Prepares for 155th Commencement 

Howard University graduates. Photo courtesy of Howard University.

Howard University will celebrate graduating seniors at its 155th Commencement Ceremony on the main Yard this Saturday. 

Since the university only has one commencement convocation each year, students who graduated in the summer of 2022, December 2022 and Spring 2023 will all be honored at this event. A student hasn’t officially graduated until their degree has been conferred by the President of the University during commencement. 

Director of University Events and Protocol, Andrew Rivers, oversees commencement planning. He explained that he has been Chief of Staff since 2008, and assists with Howard’s ceremonies.

Rivers explained that Howard calls their ceremony “convocation” because it is similar to a graduation, but not exactly – it’s more of a convening of all the parties that are associated with graduates, assembled together to carry out a right of passage, he said. 

Faculty, administration, the cabinet and the Board of Trustees will be in attendance to congratulate and affirm graduates, but all students are not recognized individually by name. 

Rivers and his team are “hoping and praying that this commencement will allow us to return to our tradition of having the commencement on the Yard,” alluding to the fact that last year’s ceremony was held in Burr Gymnasium due to inclement weather. “A ceremony on the Yard gives seniors the opportunity to participate in a long standing tradition,” Rivers said. 

“In your first year, you take the Long Walk from the College of Fine Arts to Founder’s Library to symbolize the beginning of your journey of knowledge,” he said.  “Commencement is the final Long Walk, symbolizing that you have gained all of this knowledge.” 

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In addition to upholding a Howard tradition, holding commencement on the Yard would allow for a larger turnout. According to Rivers, the Yard, which is currently set up with bleachers and seating arrangements, has the capacity to host 15,000 people. This is almost twice the amount as Burr gymnasium, which can only hold around 7,000 to 8,000 people. 

There are three main components of commencement planning, and each component has a specific committee, Rivers explained. 

The first committee, called the “Commencement Clearers,” focuses on clearing students academically. When a student applies for graduation, their transcript is sent to the committee, who then work with the student’s advisor and school’s faculty and staff to make sure the student has met all of their requirements. This team meets weekly to prepare a final list of students that are graduating.

The second committee focuses on planning the main commencement convocation event, and is called the “Commencement Planning Committee”. They have been meeting since November. This group is made up of campus partners, such as facility management, transportation services, the Department of Public Safety, and the building coordinators who will help stream the ceremony. This committee is made up of about roughly 30-45 people. 

The third committee assists in planning the smaller ceremonies, and is called the “Ceremony Coordinator Committee.” These are representatives from each school or college who prepare ceremonies specifically for the graduates in their respective college or school. 

Each of Howard’s 14 schools and colleges will have a ceremony to recognize their students starting on May 10, in Cramton Auditorium or Burr Gymnasium. These ceremonies lead up to the final commencement on Yard. While the final ceremony confers a student’s degree and recognizes them a legal and legitimate graduate of the university, the school and college-based ceremonies are smaller and more personalized. 

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These ceremonies allow schools to recognize students individually and by name, walk across the stage, and some programs award special honors or acknowledgements to certain students. 

“That’s how we’re really able to provide that special attention,” Rivers said. “In many cases, that’s where a lot of family and friends are there for those ceremonies.”

For those who cannot make Commencement in person, the university has put together a website where anyone can access the livestreams of each school and college ceremony. Live stream schedules for the different schools and colleges are outlined on the website.

The university will also stream the main commencement ceremony, which will be available on May 13 at 8:30 a.m. The livestream can be accessed on Howard University’s website. 

When it came to budgeting for commencement, Rivers said it depended on the location of the event, and that gathering a total cost would mean a discussion with the financial department. 

“We are in a position where we have to be cautious of the cost and not to be absorbent in what we do, but we also have to take into account that we definitely want to make sure these students get the best experience possible,” Rivers said. 

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When recounting his favorite part of graduation, he said that watching students grow up has been one of the most rewarding experiences. 

Several graduating seniors shared their Howard experiences and their post-graduations plans with The Hilltop.

Jaxson, a senior biology major from Georgia said, “My Howard journey has been full of extreme highs and lows, has been a learning experience from the first day and has made me into the man I am today. A man who is confident that in any situation I can adapt and succeed.”

He also said, “I’m most excited about the graduation ceremonies, it’s inspiring to see my classmates moving on and starting to make the world a better place…also the parties are crazy.”

He plans to attend medical school at either Howard, Meharry, Morehouse, Michigan State or Tulane University. His favorite Howard memory is meeting his friend group at their first party together. 

Another senior, Ainyae Holmes, a sports medicine major from Philadelphia, shared a little bit about her Howard experience. 

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“My Howard journey has been a transformative experience,” Holmes said. “My time at Howard has been filled with growth, challenges, and wonderful memories.”

She also said that she was proud to be graduating summa cum laude and her internship experience at the Hospital for Special Surgery. She is currently most excited about walking across the stage and receiving her diploma during commencement. 

Rivers also shared thoughts about commencement addresses and what the graduation means and will mean for several graduating students. 

“For me, personally, I have come to appreciate not only the love this time of the year – there are several young people I’ve seen come in as freshmen, and to see them graduate is so refreshing. This is the last chance that a student graduating will see Howard University. And no matter the circumstances and trials and tribulations, [graduation] will be the most memorable. We owe it to these graduates to ensure it is a celebratory moment,” he said.

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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