Howard University, one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning, honored four groundbreaking members of its community including alumni and former staff, most notably, the star of Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
Actor Chadwick Boseman, former National Institutes of Health Associate Director Vivian W. Pinn and alumni Colbert I. King and his wife Gwendolyn Stewart King received honorary doctorate degrees at the university’s 150th commencement on May 11.
“Our 2018 honorary degree recipients are individuals who have reached success in their respective professional fields. Each honoree embodies the spirit and aspiration that guides Howard’s mission of excellence in truth and service,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick.
Boseman, who graduated from Howard in 2000, was conferred with the university’s highest honor, an honorary degree, a Doctorate of Humane Letters. Boseman has played several iconic African Americans on film including Jackie Robinson, James Brown and fellow Howard University alumni Thurgood Marshall. He recently starred as lead character T’Challa in this year’s blockbuster “Black Panther,” one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
The Kings, both alumni who met at Howard, received the same honor as Boseman for work in their respective fields. Colbert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, also is also a former deputy editor of The Post’s editorial page. Gwendolyn, the business owner of a speechwriting firm, also held high-level federal government appointments under Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They have endowed a chair in public policy at Howard University.
Pinn, a former department chair at Howard’s medical school, was the first full-time director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Heath.
“They have dedicated their talents and lives to improving the world around them—and for that we honor them,” Frederick said of the honorees.
Boseman told graduates at his alma mater that they should always be fueled by a sense of purpose and that the campus represents “the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you undergo while you were here.”
“That is the magic of this place,” Boseman said. “Anything can happen here.”
After graduating from Howard, Boseman attended the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford. He quickly landed the lead of a New York City play and, later, a role on a soap opera. While on the television show, Boseman said he encountered a conflict between his professional ambitions and his personal values and beliefs.
On the show, he played a young man with a drug-addicted mother and absent father who was being lured in by a gang. Boseman felt the role was stereotypical and voiced his concerns to executives, after which, he said, he was fired from the show.
He urged graduates to “take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes” to avoid regrets.
“What do you do when the principles and standards that were instilled in you here at Howard close the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is,” Boseman said.
Both Boseman and Frederick praised students who protested in the April sit-in demonstration over a financial aid scandal, an inefficient campus housing system and tuition increases which shut down the university’s administration building for eight days.
Boseman also said he will lead a campaign to create a separate college of fine arts at the university, as the major is currently just a division within the university’s college of arts and sciences.
He wrapped up his speech with the famous “Wakanda salute,” but instead of saying “Wakanda forever,” he ended saying “Howard forever.”
The university awarded more than 2,200 degrees, including 343 master’s degrees and 90 doctorates. More than 380 students received professional degrees in law, medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.