National HBCU Commencement Celebration to recognize 2020 graduates

The virtual celebration on May 16 will highlight the achievements of graduates from historically Black institutions across the country.

In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis that has forced colleges and universities across the nation to postpone their commencement celebrations, a coalition of leaders from historically Black colleges and universities, advocacy organizations and corporate partners have come together to host the National HBCU Commencement Celebration on May 16.

The virtual event is the brainchild of Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, an HBCU in Dallas, Texas. The livestreamed celebration will feature celebrity hosts, motivational speakers, musical performances, and the profiles of HBCU valedictorians and other graduates.

In addition to highlighting this year’s graduates and their institutions, the event will raise funds for participating HBCUs and their students.

Along with Paul Quinn College, event organizers include Howard University, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Thurgood Marshal College Fund and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, praised the event and said the celebration will reinforce the importance and history of HBCUs.

Johnson C. Smith University, one of UNCF’s 37 member institutions, just completed spring classes on Friday. The school has 216 undergraduate and 33 graduate candidates that were looking forward to marking their college years at commencement.

Keisha Wilson, JCSU’s registrar officer and chair for commencement exercises, understands graduation is an exciting time for students.


“Although our commencement exercises has been postponed until October, we are grateful our students are being given the opportunity to celebrate this rite of passage with their peers and students from other HBCUs,” said Wilson, who is also a JCSU alumna. “They deserve our praise and support.”

Funds raised during the event will go into an emergency fund to support HBCU students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and will be distributed by UNCF and Thurgood Marshal College Fund. 

Watch the National HBCU Commencement Celebration when it streams on May 16 on the ESSENCE Studios website.

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