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Thasunda Brown Duckett says have courage, save money early in commencement address

In her address to the largest graduating class in Howard’s history, the TIAA CEO talked about always looking forward and properly managing finances.

Thasunda Brown Duckett, a financial services CEO, tells graduates, “You will face difficulties, but have the courage to be excited about what all the world has in store for you.” (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Commencement Speaker Thasunda Brown Duckett spoke to 2,839 graduating students, the largest graduating class in Howard’s history, on Saturday. The financial services CEO told the class of 2024 to have courage in life after Howard and emphasized the importance of saving money early.

The Capital One Arena seated more than 20,000 friends and family members on May 11. Duckett, the CEO of TIAA, told the students that it is essential to view challenges as lessons after college, and to have the courage to confront them. 

“In the years ahead, know that you’re going to have to summon up some courage in the workplace, with your families and with your communities,” Duckett said. “You will need to find and use your voice and be brave.”

Duckett referenced driver’s education as she spoke to the graduates about focusing on what is ahead.

“Don’t dwell too long on that rearview mirror. Use it to take a quick glance backwards to ensure that you can get to your destination safely,” she said. “The windshield is a lot wider than the rearview mirror.”

Duckett also talked about the importance of properly managing finances. She told students to “take advantage of the power of compounding interest,” and to “max out your 401k before you get your first check.”

“Today is the time to think about the power of investing, the power of saving and the power of compounding interest,” she said. “I need all of you to start saving early, because a dollar saved today is worth more than a dollar saved tomorrow.”

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Duckett follows last year’s orator, President Joseph Biden, who spoke about his administration’s investments in HBCUs and standing up to white supremacy. In President Ben Vinson III’s opening remarks Saturday, he said that the university was granting 2,011 bachelor’s degrees, 305 master’s degrees, 87 Ph.D.s and 436 professional degrees to the graduating class of 2024.

Students from the School of Communications shout and take selfies as their degrees are officially conferred by President Ben Vinson III. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

 

Vinson shouted out the College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, whose graduation ceremony abruptly shut down on May 9 after a visitor broke a glass door trying to get inside Cramton Auditorium. They continued their ceremony after the commencement convocation on Saturday.

“We apologize for the events that you endured this week, but we stand here to salute you,” Vinson said.

He talked about how the class of 2024 graduated high school in 2020 and embodied resilience as they navigated education during the pandemic.

“Many of you began your college careers in unorthodox ways: behind screens [and] not being in-person with your peers and your professors, and yet here you are,” Vinson said. “You’re in-person. You’re on the verge of officially being conferred with your Howard University degree.”

He complimented the class and said they exemplified what it meant to be a Bison.

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“Your journey from then to now… is precisely what makes each of you prototypical Howard students,” he said.

Alanis Baluyot McNeal, a journalism major and graphic design minor from Seattle, graduated Saturday. She was outside the arena after the ceremony ended, putting on a loose earring and looking for her parents.

She said she faced a series of challenges as she worked her way to graduation, having gone through the pandemic and losing “a couple [of] jobs.” She graduated summa cum laude and will soon begin working at ESPN on their social media content team. 

“I’m absolutely happy to graduate college – to graduate, period,” McNeal said.

Cameron Drewery, a mechanical engineering major from Nashville, Tennessee, by way of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was sitting on the arena floor with her College of Engineering and Architecture cohort before the ceremony began. She said she felt ‘surreal’ being able to graduate. 

“I’m looking back over all of the trials and tribulations I’ve had to endure as a Howard student, and even through those trials there’s still glimmers of light and love from the community [and] from the faculty that poured into me and supported me to get me where I am today,” Drewery said.

She said she will continue her education in Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Science program for additive manufacturing.

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“I’m just feeling really grateful. There’s an immense sense of gratitude,” Drewery said.

Emmanuel Bridgeforth, the father of biology major and Karsh STEM Scholar Sydney Bell, was sitting in the stands in support of his daughter.

“It means the world to us because of everything that she went through being a COVID kid, just watching how she’s grown, going through all the obstacles that she’s gone through and mastered it, man,” Bridgeforth said. “It means everything to us to see her out here.”

Candidates for Doctor of Medicine degrees put graduation sashes over each other as they are officially conferred their degrees. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Chase Brown’s grandparents were in the stands wiping away tears as they flipped through the program pamphlet. Jesse Merrill and Dr. Sonya Merrill said Brown, also a biology major, was the youngest of their three grandchildren and the second to graduate.

“I raised all my grandsons,” Jesse Merrill said. 

He said he picked them up and took them from school “from the time they were in preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school.”

Sonya Merrill said Brown plans to get his master’s degree in marine biology.

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The event ended with a video collage featuring Vice President and Howard alumna Kamala Harris and Singer Mary J. Blige, congratulating the class.

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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